American Forces Press Service

Rice Calls Syria 'Big Problem' at Senate Hearing

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2005 - America's top diplomat today asked the international community to close ranks to stop Syria from meddling in other countries' affairs.

"There's no doubt that Syria is a big problem," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a budget hearing on Capitol Hill.

The world community was aghast, Rice said, when former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was blown up Feb. 14 in Beirut, Lebanon. Rice didn't accuse the Syrian government of masterminding Hariri's murder, but she pointed out that "Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs, has, of course, created a destabilized environment in Lebanon."

Syria has garrisoned about 15,000 troops in Lebanon since a bloody civil war gripped that country in the 1970s. In September 2004 the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1559 - cosponsored by the United States and France -- that calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon. Syria is the only Arab nation on the Security Council.

After Hariri's death, the United States recalled its ambassador to Syria. That recall, Rice said, actually resulted from "a culmination" of issues and should send "a strong signal" to the Syrian government.

Syria is a sponsor of terrorist networks like Hezbollah, Rice said, that cause carnage and disrupt Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts.

And terrorists using Syrian territory are "contributing to the insurgency in Iraq," she noted.

Yet, Rice asked for calm -- and a U.N. investigation into the death of the former Lebanese prime minister.

"We need the international community united against what Syria is doing," Rice declared, "and what Syria is using both its own territory for and what it's using the territory of southern Lebanon to do."

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