Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 7 News List

US to quiz Syrian envoy on terror, nuclear weapons


The US State Department is talking with Syria to discuss US allegations that the Arab country supports terror groups and is pursuing nuclear weapons, a department official said on Friday.

A meeting with the Syrian ambassador, scheduled for this week at the State Department, will be the first such session since September and reflects US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s interest in talking directly with Syria and other countries at odds with the US, spokesman Gordon Duguid said.

“It’s her belief that direct engagement with Syria will advance US interests,” Duguid said.

Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha is to meet Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman at Feltman’s request, Duguid said. Clinton is not scheduled to participate.

“Our concerns include Syria’s support to terrorist groups and networks, Syria’s pursuit of nuclear and nonconventional weaponry, interference in Lebanon and a worsening human rights situation,” Duguid said.

The spokesman cited the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Thursday that samples taken from a Syrian site suspected of being a secretly built nuclear reactor have revealed new traces of processed uranium.

The report noted the refusal by Damascus to allow agency inspectors to make follow-up visits to sites suspected of harboring a secret nuclear program. Syria denies hiding any such program.

The samples referred to in the report were obtained during a visit in June to the Al Kibar site bombed in 2007 by Israeli jets.

Minute traces of processed uranium from those samples were found late last year and the report reflected additional traces found after additional analysis.

Syria has suggested the traces came from Israeli ordnance used against the site, but the report said the composition of the uranium made that unlikely. Israel has denied it was the source of the uranium.

US-Syrian relations long have been tense, particularly since the US ambassador was pulled out by the George W. Bush administration in 2005 to protest Syria’s suspected role in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus denied involvement, but in the uproar that followed it was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon and end a 29-year military presence in the neighboring country.

The US also has criticized Syria for supporting militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and has accused Syria of not doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq.

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