U.S. Favors WMD-Free Mideast, Linked to Peace
"We would like to see that whole region free of weapons of
mass destruction," Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) told a news
conference, in response to questions on whether Washington is
willing to apply equal standards to Syria and Israel.
On Monday, Powell threatened economic and diplomatic
measures against Syria if it does not meet a range of demands,
including abandoning an alleged chemical weapons program.
Syria denies having such a program and has offered to open
its facilities to U.N. inspections as part of a regional
disarmament campaign which includes Israel.
Powell repeated the list of U.S. concerns on Tuesday, which
includes the weapons program, support for groups which
Washington labels terrorist, and suspicions that the Syrians
allowed fighters to enter Iraq (news - web sites) or allowed fugitive Iraqi
leaders into Syria.
"We hope that Syria understands now that there is a new
environment in the region with the end of the regime of (Iraqi
leader) Saddam Hussein (news - web sites), and that Syria will reconsider its
policies of past years and understand that there are better
choices it can make," Powell said.
Pressed on inspection of the weapons programs of U.S. ally
Israel, which is believed to have some 200 nuclear warheads
outside any international inspection system, he said that
"pieces will begin to fall in place" after peace between Israel
and Syria and Lebanon.
"If we can move forward with a comprehensive peace process
that leads to a comprehensive solution that creates a
Palestinian state living side by side in peace with a Jewish
state, Israel, and ultimately have that comprehensive solution
reach out and touch Lebanon and Syria, then I think a lot of
pieces will begin to fall in place with respect to what
people's various needs are," he said.
"But right now we will just continue to say that we believe
that the entire region should be free of weapons of mass
destruction," he added.
Powell said he hoped that the Palestinian legislature would
confirm prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas "some time in
the next week or so" so that the United States can publish a
Middle East peace plan known as the "road map."
The Israelis and the Palestinians would then have a chance
to comment on the peace plan and discuss those comments with
each other, he added.
"This is going to be a very difficult process but I believe
progress can be made if both sides enter this road map process
with an understanding of the needs of the other side and with a
good faith effort to use the new situation," he said.
"We have a new opportunity, an opportunity I think that is
enhanced by what has happened by the removal of the
dictatorship of Saddam Hussein," he added.
An Israeli delegation gave the United States its
preliminary comments on the peace plan on Monday, after reports
that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) is seeking some
amendments to the document.
U.S. officials have said the plan is for implementation in
its existing form, but Powell did not say that on Tuesday.