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06 January 2005

State's Armitage Notes Syria's Control of Iraq Border Improving

Discussions in Syria also touch on Lebanon, Mideast peace process

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara in Damascus, Syria, January 2, to discuss Syria’s relations with Iraq and Lebanon, and Syria’s potential role in support of the Middle East peace process.

Armitage reviewed measures that Syria has taken to strengthen security along its border with Iraq.  “We all need to do a lot on border security, and Syria has made some real improvements in recent months,” he said, “but we all need to do more, particularly on the question of foreign regime elements participating in activities in Iraq, going back and forth from Syria.”

He said reports indicate that former Iraqi regime elements continue to cross the Syria-Iraq border.  He added his hope that by its actions, Syria will build the foundation for friendly relations with the future government of Iraq.

Armitage also said that in keeping with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, Syria should refrain from interfering in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections scheduled for May.

The Security Council adopted Resolution 1559 in September 2004 in response to Syria’s perceived maneuvering in Lebanon’s domestic political affairs.  International observers saw Syria as the driving force behind a revision of the Lebanese Constitution allowing President Emile Lahoud to extend his term of office.  The resolution calls for the withdrawal of Syrian military forces from Lebanon and the disbanding of all irregular militias operating within the country.

Syrian troops have been in Lebanon since 1976, and Syria was a key player in orchestrating the 1989 Taif Accord, which brought an end to the Lebanese Civil War.

The deputy secretary also discussed the potential for restarting the Middle East peace process following the January 9 Palestinian presidential election.  Palestinians will be choosing a new leader to succeed the late President Yasser Arafat, who died in November 2004.  Israeli officials have indicated their willingness to re-engage in negotiations with the new Palestinian leader.

Following is a transcript of Armitage’s remarks following his meeting with al-Assad and al-Shara:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State

Remarks Following Meetings With Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad and Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shara

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State

Damascus, Syria

January 2, 2005

Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria during his trip to the Middle East.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We had a series of very candid, realistic and thorough discussions with the President and with the Foreign Minister. The U.S. side stressed the absolute importance of the Iraqi elections on 30 January and the full participation of all Iraqis. We all need to do a lot on border security, and Syria has made some real improvements in recent months on border security, but we all need to do more, particularly on the question of foreign regime elements participating in activities in Iraq, going back and forth from Syria.

Second, we talked about the necessity of full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the need to have no foreign interference in the parliamentary elections in Lebanon next spring.

And lastly, the U.S. side pointed out our belief that we have a moment of opportunity in the peace process. After January 9th, we'll have a new Palestinian leadership. We should all support that leadership, revive the political process and not resort to violence, and the U.S. remains committed to a comprehensive peace.

I thank the President, and I thank the Foreign Minister for their very constructive and helpful comments today.

I'll be glad to take a question or two.

QUESTION: What kind of message have you carried from President Bush to President Hafez (sic) Al-Asad, to the Syrian leadership?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well I made a point that in our view it is absolutely necessary to have full Iraqi participation in the 30th of January elections, and I believe I found here in Syria the same views. Second, we all need to do more to stop the foreign regime elements operating back and forth across the border between Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION:  Has the USA been serious about Syrian support to Iraqi fighters similar to that Colin Powell presented about Iraqi-wide disruption, weapons, positions?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I made the point here that we have seen a lot of improvement regarding foreign fighters who were using Syria to enter Iraq, and this is a good thing. But I also made the point that former regime elements of the Iraqi regime sometimes cross back and forth on the border, and that it's very important to have that stopped. We believe it's very important that the new Iraq of the future have a very friendly relationship with Syria, and I hope our Syrian friends are committed to that same type friendship. So I thank you very much.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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