Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Wake up call?

Syria is trying to change its image in Washington, but the effort seems to be failing:

Syria has launched a diplomatic campaign aimed at canceling its membership in the Bush administration's "rogue" nations club. But the United States and its key allies remain cool, unconvinced that the overtures amount to anything more than lip service from a government that remains fundamentally hostile to U.S. interests.

The question for the Bush administration is whether Syria can be persuaded to follow Libya's lead in renouncing terrorism and giving up any weapons of mass destruction it might have.

The answer is a matter of some urgency in this campaign year, because a new U.S. law will trigger economic and political sanctions against Syria in May — unless Secretary of State Colin L. Powell certifies that Damascus is making progress toward meeting American demands or President Bush waives the sanctions on national security grounds.

The guessing game in Washington is how long American patience with Syria will last if Bush is reelected. With the administration's hands full with Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea, no one expects the U.S. to put military pressure on Syria before the November presidential election.


Syria was not named by Bush as an "axis of evil" nation, though in the past it has been routinely mentioned in the same breath as Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya as nations suspected of fitting the two criteria deemed most dangerous to U.S. interests: possession of weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorists to whom such weapons might be transferred.

Syria is, however, the only one of the "rogue" nations with which the United States has normal diplomatic relations and daily contacts. The problem is that those contacts seem to be leading nowhere, State Department officials said.

"There's a lot of frustration with the Syrians," said one official who requested anonymity. "Basically, there's the feeling that the clock is ticking on Syria and they need to heed the wake-up call."


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