Powell says US may impose sanctions on Syria


The United States will consider imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria for its alleged support for members of Saddam Hussein's former regime in Iraq, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said today.

We are in touch with Syrian authorities ... and will make them aware of our concerns.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"We are in touch with Syrian authorities ... and will make them aware of our concerns and we'll see how things unfold as we move forward," he said.

Syria earlier denied a US charge that it has chemical weapons.

"Of course Syria has no chemical weapons. They (Americans) have been talking for years about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But so far, the presence ofthese weapons has not been confirmed," said ministry spokeswoman Bouthayna Shaaban.

"I would like to say that there are biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East region. They are in Israel, not in Syria," she said.

US President George W. Bush said yesterday that Syria could have chemical weapons and be harbouring Iraqi officials who have fled the US invasion of Iraq.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has also repeatedly rapped Damascus for allegedly supporting Iraqis fighting the war and for helping senior Iraqi leaders enter Syria.

However, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today Syria was not "next on the list" for military action, but said there was evidence that Syria co-operated with Saddam's toppled administration. He urged Damascus to change its attitude now Saddam was gone.

EU foreign policy chief Mr Javier Solana urged Washington today to tone down its statements about Syria, saying it was time to "cool down" the tense situation in the Middle East.

Asked about the tough US rhetoric on Syria, Mr Solana replied: "The region is going through a very difficult process and I think it would be better to make constructive statements to see if we can cool down the situation..."

Mr Solana was speaking before an EU foreign ministers meeting to discuss how the bloc could help postwar Iraq.

The EU has said it wants the United Nations to have the central role in the rebuilding of Iraq, but Washington has said it will decide what happens once the war is over.