Sun, Feb 20, 2005 - Page 6 News List

US not trying to isolate Syria: secretary of state


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday the US was not seeking to isolate Syria on the world scene but was hoping Damascus would act itself on a range of US complaints.

Washington has been stepping up the pressure on Syria, considered a sponsor of terrorism, since Monday's assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut.

But Rice, who recalled her ambassador to Damascus this week for "urgent consultations," denied Friday the aim was to isolate the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. "We are not trying to isolate Syria," she told reporters after meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot. "What we are trying to do is get Syria to engage in more responsible behavior."

She cited in particular the need to cooperate with a thorough investigation of the Hariri assassination, which the US blames at least indirectly on the Syrians.

Rice also reiterated her call for the Syrians to end their support for insurgents in Iraq as well as Islamic militants seeking to wreck the Middle East peace process.

Her remarks that the US administration was not trying to isolate Syria appeared to contrast somewhat with her call at a Senate hearing Thursday for "concerted international pressure" on Damascus.

President George W. Bush told a news conference the same day that "the idea is to continue to work with the world to remind Syria it's not in their interest to be isolated."

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher denied there was any change Friday in the tenor of the Bush administration's approach to Syria. "I don't think there was any toning down," he said.

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