14 April 2003
Britain said it is in high-level discussions with Syrian leaders amid U.S. accusations that Syria is hiding chemical weapons and helping former Iraqi officials.
Britain has joined the United States in raising alarms about possible cooperation between Syria and former Iraqi officials.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told a London news conference that Syria may want to take advantage of the expertise of Iraqi weapons scientists. "I think our immediate concern is the risk that some of those involved in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs might escape across the border into Syria, obviously boosting Syria's own efforts in those directions," Mr. Hoon said.
The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told a news conference in Kuwait that there had been "considerable cooperation" between Syria and the Saddam Hussein government before last month's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Mr. Straw said there are ongoing high-level contacts with Syria, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, to convince Syrian officials to end such cooperation. "What we want from the Syrian government is undertakings there will be the fullest possible cooperation to ensure that any fugitives from justice from the Saddam entourage are brought to justice. And that questions that have been raised about unlawful holdings by Syria are dealt with adequately," he said.
Mr. Straw said he has no evidence to back up President Bush's assertion that Syria is believed to have chemical weapons, but the British official said the issue must be discussed.
Mr. Straw also denied that there are any plans to attack Syria. "Syria is not next on the list," he said.
The Syrian government said it is not harboring Iraqi officials or holding prohibited weapons.