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UK highlights questions for Syria

Straw
Straw listens to a question at Tuesday's news conference in Qatar.

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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- Syria has an "opportunity to prove" that it is not what Washington calls a "rogue nation" sponsoring terrorism, developing chemical weapons and harboring former Iraqi leaders, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Tuesday.

"There are some important questions for Syria to answer and to deal with," Straw told reporters at U.S. Central Command in Doha.

"It's very important that Syria accepts the new reality and operates in a constructive, cooperative way with us and the United States."

Syria has denied the allegations, saying the U.S. wants to divert attention from civil disorder in Iraq.

When asked if he agreed with the United States that Syria was a "rogue nation," Straw said Britain and America "use different descriptions."

On Sunday, U.S. President George W. Bush said Washington believed Damascus was harboring senior Iraqi officials, adding: "We believe there are chemical weapons in Syria." (Full story)

And on Monday several members of the Bush administration stepped up pressure on Damascus, with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell threatening diplomatic and economic sanctions. (Full story)

The Syrian ambassador to the United States, Rostom Al-Zoubi, told CNN Monday: "All these accusations are baseless. We deny them."

But Straw said Tuesday the Syrian government had to "understand the seriousness of the situation."

He added that in past meetings with President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, both men seemed to have the "future interest and welfare of their country at heart."

Straw's visit to Doha came on the second day of a tour of Gulf states. On Monday in Bahrain he denied Syria was on a U.S. hit list. (Full story)

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who supported the U.S. and UK in the Iraq war, said Tuesday that Syria would not be a military target.

"Syria has been and will be a friend of Spain. It will not be the target of any war actions," Aznar told reporters in Warsaw, Poland, before meeting Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, another staunch U.S. ally.

"I am convinced that the conflict will not spread to other countries in the region," Reuters quoted Aznar as saying.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern Monday that statements about Syria could further destabilize the Middle East, although he did not single out the United States.

"The secretary-general is concerned that recent statements directed at Syria should not contribute to a wider destabilization in a region already affected heavily by the war in Iraq," said a statement from Annan's office. (Full story)


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