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9/20/04 - BURNS IN SYRIA - 2004-09-21

The U.S. is looking for Syria to demonstrate a commitment to peace and security in the Middle East. On a visit to Syria, William Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said the U.S. hopes the Syrian government “will take concrete actions, as a matter of its own interest and the interest of stability in the region,” to fight terrorism and prevent infiltration of terrorists from Syria into Iraq, Israel, and other countries. Mr. Burns and other U.S. officials met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

Mr. Burns said that Syria “should not be used as a platform to undermine Iraqi stability.” To prevent this, U.S. and Syrian officials discussed means of cooperation among U.S., Syrian, and Iraqi military experts.

Mr. Burns told Syrian officials that the U.S. “remains committed to the achievement of a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace in the Middle East.” But such a peace cannot be realized against a backdrop of violence. That means the Syrian government must halt the activities of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups operating on and from Syrian territory and in Lebanon.

Along with other countries, the U.S. is also concerned about Syrian intervention in the Lebanese political process. Instead of scheduling an election for a new president, the Lebanese parliament voted to amend the constitution to extend the term of President Emile Lahoud. Syria has about sixteen-thousand troops in Lebanon, and the move to change the constitution followed high-level meetings of Lebanese and Syrian officials. The U-N Security Council has called on Syria to end its interference in Lebanese internal affairs, withdraw its forces from Lebanon, and allow the Lebanese armed forces and government to establish their authority throughout the country.

President George W. Bush says the U.S. is determined to promote democracy in the Middle East because that is the key to peace and security:

“When the peoples of that region are given new hope and lives in dignity, they will let go of old hatreds and resentments, and the terrorists will find fewer recruits.”

If countries in the Middle East, including Syria, join in the fight against terror, instead of harboring terrorists, the world will be a safer place.