OCT 9 2005




The United States on Wednesday refused to rule out possible military action against Syria but said it had not exhausted diplomatic moves to get Damascus to change its ways over Iraq and Lebanon.


Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said both Syria and Iran were allowing fighters and military assistance to reach insurgents in Iraq.


"Syria and Iran must decide whether they wish to side with the cause of war or with the cause of peace," Rice told a hearing called to discuss U.S. strategy in Iraq, where more than 150,000 U.S. troops are struggling to end an insurgency.


Pressed by senators over whether the Bush administration was planning military action against Syria in particular, Rice said the United States was still on a "diplomatic course" with Damascus but the military option remained open.


"The president never takes any option off the table and he shouldn't," said Rice when asked about a military option.


The Bush administration has accused Syria of doing too little to stop foreign fighters from entering neighboring Iraq. Syria, in turn, says the United States has not done enough to secure the border or deliver technical help it has promised.


Rice declined to say whether the president would present any plans to Congress before launching military action against Syria, saying she did not want to circumscribe his powers.


Her strong criticism of Syria comes before the United Nations is set to release a report on Friday on the assassination last February of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.


The United States, France and others, say they believe Syria might have played a role in the killing of Hariri and 20 others in a massive truck blast in Beirut on February 14 and are calling for strong action if that is the case.


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said Syria was not involved in Hariri's death and he reiterated this in an interview with a German newspaper released on Wednesday, telling Die Zeit that Syria is "100 percent innocent."



Rice was in New York on Tuesday and discussed options with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan before the release of the report by a U.N. team led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis.


Late next week, the U.N. Security Council gets another report from U.N. envoy Terje Roed Larsen on the withdrawal of Syria and other foreign forces from Lebanon.


France, the United States and Britain have been discussing two possible resolutions but no texts have been drawn up, although each party has a wish list, diplomats said.


"There are discussions about what is the appropriate mechanism to address Syrian behavior within the U.N. context," said a State Department official, who asked not to be named according to department rules.


Syria and Lebanon were an important focus during Rice's visit last week to London, Paris and Moscow, where she tried to rally support for punitive action against Damascus.


The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said lots of possibilities were being discussed but a decision would be taken only when the U.N.'s report had been studied.


"What I will confirm is discussions about eventualities and contingencies that may emerge, depending on what the Roed-Larsen and Mehlis reports say," Bolton told reporters in New York.


European diplomats said if Damascus was found to have played a hand in the killing of Hariri, a U.N. resolution might look at imposing some financial restrictions or travel limitations on individuals involved but strong economic sanctions were unlikely.


Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, in a letter released at the United Nations on Wednesday, asked for international help in determining how to bring to justice the perpetrators of the murder of Hariri.


But diplomats said Annan was still hesitant about any extension of Mehlis' mandate. Other considerations include a U.N.-backed court to try any perpetrators.








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