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U.S. asks Syria to stop militants: Official


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Syrian President Bashar Assad
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. delegation directly confronted Syrian President Bashar Assad -- on the third anniversary of 9/11 -- with evidence that Syrians were aiding militants crossing the border to foment deadly violence in Iraq, a senior U.S. government official has told CNN.

President Bush had warned Syria before about its failure to police its borders, but the meeting with Assad -- as opposed to lower-level Syrian officials -- sent a more dire message, according to CNN Military Intelligence Analyst Ken Robinson, quoting the official.

Robinson said the official did not describe what kind of evidence the U.S. presented to Assad at the September 11 meeting in Damascus attended by an influential delegation of representatives from the Department of State, Department of Defense, U.S. Central Command and intelligence community.

CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr previously reported on this meeting but it was not known until now that Assad himself was present.

The government official said the U.S. representatives told Assad to stop jihad supporters from entering Iraq from Syria to battle U.S. troops and undermine Iraqi security.

U.S. commanders in Iraq -- increasingly faced with a bloody insurgency -- asked Washington do something to stem the flow of terror suspects into Iraq, the official said.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who made a high-profile visit to the United States this week, told CNN he made several trips to Syria when he was intelligence director under the Iraqi Governing Council, urging the country to end its support for suspected terrorists.

The United States told Assad at the meeting the Syrian military should cooperate directly with U.S. coalition and Iraqi forces to shut down "storefronts" in Iraq for Islamic groups suspected of recruiting and financing fighters. This is a request the United States previously has made.

Assad was reminded that Saudi Arabia is now fighting an armed insurgency of its own, after years of allowing such groups to operate openly while raising cash to support their efforts outside Saudi Arabia's borders, the high-level U.S. official told CNN. And Syria could face the same consequences.

On another front, the United States and other nations, which have pushed Syria to withdraw its troops from posts in Lebanon to reduce Mideast violence, saw some results this week.

Syria began a phased redeployment Tuesday of about 1,000 troops from Beirut.


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