U.S. raid aims to reassure Syria's enemies: minister

LONDON Mon Oct 27, 2008 3:32pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - A U.S. raid on Syria was intended to reassure Damascus' enemies that Washington is not following France and Britain's lead in cozying up to Syria, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday.

"They (the Americans) want to send a political message to their allies in the region that nothing has changed in Syrian-American relations... that things are not as good as they look," Moualem told Reuters in an interview.

"Maybe some people in the administration... don't feel happy at seeing relations improve ... Maybe they want to send a message to their allies in the region that American policy vis-a-vis Syria is not changing, it is deteriorating."

The Syrian minister accused the United States of "terrorist aggression" after Sunday's raid near its border with Iraq, in which Syria said eight civilians were killed.

Washington, which says Damascus has failed to stem the flow of al Qaeda fighters and other insurgents crossing into Iraq, has refused to say whether its troops were involved.

Syria said four U.S. helicopters attacked al-Sukkari farm on in the Albou Kamal area near the border with Iraq in eastern Syria and that U.S. soldiers stormed a building there.

Moualem said the U.S. attack would not derail recent overtures between Syria and Europe, particularly France and Britain.

"I must assure you that what happened yesterday if it aims to interrupt our promising relations with Europe, with Britain and France, I can assure you that today's talks makes this goal fail," he said following talks with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's invitation to Paris in July to attend a European-Mediterranean summit, marked an end to Syria's nearly five year-long international isolation.

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Moualem said he had invited Miliband to visit Syria soon.

A British official said: "Today was one of the first steps to see how we can have a more normal relationship with Syria."

Asked to comment on reports that special U.S. forces conducted the U.S. raid, Moualem said: "It doesn't matter which American force did it. It is American forces which attacked a Syrian farm and killed eight civilians, the aggression is the essence of the question."

The Iraqi government said the strike targeted insurgents who attack Iraq. Moualem said Syria would ask the United States and Iraq for an investigation into the attack.

If the U.S. role is confirmed, it would be the first U.S. military strike inside Syria since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also refused to comment on any questions relating to the reported incident in Syria.

The Syrian minister said he was astonished at the U.S. silence following the raid.

"Maybe they are thinking of how to fabricate their response," he said.

He said Syria had done its utmost to control the porous border with Iraq but that Washington likes to blame its failures on other parties.

"We helped a lot. I tell you whenever you hear the Pentagon, or an American general or politician telling you that Syria is not helping this means that they failed in Iraq and they want to blame their failure on a third party," Moualem said.

"We exert our utmost effort but nobody watch the border 100 percent ... but we did our best. Unfortunately we don't have a partner on the other side of the border to share information and to help in tightening the borders."

He said Syria had given up hope with the current U.S. administration of President George W. Bush.

"This (administration) is ignorant. I will not waste my time with this administration. I will not waste one minute."

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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