Syria, U.S. exchange charges on weapons
Syria denies allegations
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration and the Syrian government over the weekend traded allegations on whether Syria possesses weapon of mass destruction, and whether Syria is harboring fleeing members of Saddam Hussein's regime.
President Bush, in remarks to reporters, said "We believe there are chemical weapons in Syria" and that the Iraqi neighbor "needs to cooperate" with the United States and its coalition partners.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a TV interview that Syria had been busing fighters into Iraq for a while, but coalition forces turned them away.
He also said "there's no question" that members of Saddam's regime fled to Syria.
"Syria's been on the terrorist list for years," Rumsfeld said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation that, "Syria has been a concern for a long period of time. We have designated Syria for years as a state that sponsors terrorism.
Powell warns Syria over terror support
"Now that the regime is gone in Baghdad, we hope that Syria will understand there is an opportunity for a better way for them if they would stop supporting terrorist activities and make sure they are not a source of weaponry of mass destruction ... for terrorist organizations or anyone else."
Syria's deputy ambassador to the United States countered the charge that members of Saddam's regime have fled to Syria, calling it part of a campaign of disinformation against his country.
Imad Moustapha told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the reports of chaos and lawlessness in Iraq are embarrassing to the Bush administration, which has tried to divert attention from the real problem by pointing the finger at Syria.
Asked whether Syria was harboring terrorists or pursuing weapons of mass destruction, he referred to two articles in the Washington Times saying that Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he's never seen movement of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq to Syria or in the other direction, and that Syria has been cooperating with the CIA in combating terrorism.
"Please help us free this region from all weapons of mass destruction. ... Please inspect every country in the Middle East," Moustapha said. "You know very well that Israel is stockpiling nuclear weapons."
Moustapha said he doesn't think there's a potential for war between the United States and Syria. "We believe in American values and we believe in American fairness," he said.
Moustapha also repeated his opposition to the war.
"How can the Iraqi people, decent people, be celebrating when their historic capital has been bombarded with B-2s and Tomahawks and missiles for 15 days and huge casualties, civilian casualties have been inflicted," he asked.
Bush said Syria should not "harbor" any "Baathists" and military officials or others "who need to account for their tenure" in Iraq.
Bush, speaking on the White House lawn after returning from a weekend at the presidential retreat in Camp David, referred to public criticism and so-called second-guessing of the war efforts in his response to a question about chaos in the streets that began last week.
"The statue comes down on Wednesday and the headlines start to read, 'Oh, there's disorder.' Well, no kidding."
Bush blames Saddam for disorder
He added, "Saddam Hussein created the conditions for chaos" and fear and hatred and "it's going to take a while to stabilize the country."
The remarks from Bush and Rumsfeld come as some Democrats have expressed concern that some conservatives in the administration have plans for further regime change in the region.
"I think that Syria's in their cross hairs, as well as Iran and, quite frankly, our Arab 'friends'," Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden said.
Bush also said he was thrilled with the recovery of the seven prisoners of war: "I am so pleased for their families and loved ones." (Full story)