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Syria under pressure

From Brian Todd

Wolf Blitzer Reports

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Battling a deadly insurgency on the ground in Iraq, U.S. officials are taking a harder line at the diplomatic table and applying significant pressure to a key Middle East power.

At a recent meeting in Damascus, several top U.S. commanders and diplomats confronted Syrian President Bashar Assad with evidence that they said showed Syria was supporting militants crossing the Syrian border to fight against U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

CNN military intelligence analyst Ken Robinson met with senior U.S. government officials with direct knowledge of the Damascus meeting.

"The government officials wanted to stress, and wanted to make clear that this is not a solved problem -- that this is the beginning of a journey," Robinson says.

Syria's ambassador to the United States was at the early-September meeting in Damascus. When asked what his government is now doing to stop so-called "jihadists" from crossing into Iraq, Ambassador Imad Moustapha said, "We try to secure our borders. We have patrols going through our ... we are trying our best. If the Americans think they can help us improve what we are doing, we will welcome their assistance."

Ambassador Moustapha confirmed that since the Damascus meeting there have been key contacts between Syrian, Iraqi and U.S. military officials to tighten up the border region.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Assad government could still do more, but has gotten the message.

"I think they're beginning to understand that it is in their interests to not see their border as a porous feature that can be used for terrorists to get into Iraq," Secretary Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" Sunday.

The U.S. delegation also told President Assad he needed to cooperate more in shutting down charities and financial institutions accused of supporting terrorists.

The ambassador says Syria invited a team from the U.S. Treasury Department to investigate charges that a prominent Syrian bank supported terrorists.

"We were able to convince our American counterparts that the initial accusations were not based on solid information," says Ambassador Moustapha.

The Treasury Department did not respond to our calls for comment on that investigation.

At that crucial meeting in Damascus the U.S. delegation also pressed President Assad to comply with a U.N. resolution calling for Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon. Moustapha says Syria has ordered a fifth re-deployment of its forces in Lebanon, back toward the border with Syria.

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