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Sheila MacVicar: 'War of words' between U.S., Syria

CNN correspondent Sheila MacVicar
CNN correspondent Sheila MacVicar

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DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) -- Top U.S. officials are accusing Syria of harboring members of Saddam Hussein's regime and possessing chemical weapons. CNN's senior international correspondent Sheila MacVicar filed this report from Damascus.

MACVICAR: There has been an increasing litany of allegations coming from Washington directed to Damascus, the Syrian capital. Over the course of the last number of days, we've heard from President Bush, from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, from others in the U.S. administration, all of them sending warning shots, if you will, in the direction of Damascus. Damascus must, in the words of U.S. administration officials, "fully cooperate."

The question for the Syrians, of course, is: What kind of cooperation is the United States asking for? There have been times when the Syrians have indicated that they simply don't understand the multiplicity of messages ... coming their way.

Now, one of the things that the U.S. administration has been talking about, and we heard it yesterday again from President Bush, is this warning that if Syria is harboring anyone wanted from Saddam Hussein's regime in neighboring Iraq, if there are family members of the regime here, if there are even Baathist Party members here -- and there would have been about two million members of the Baath Party in Iraq -- then Syria should make sure that they do not give them asylum or safe haven, and that they should be turned over to the authorities.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has gone farther and has said that he is convinced there are such people here. The Syrians have repeatedly denied that they are offering shelter to anyone here, and informed Western sources here in Damascus say categorically they have no information which would lead them to believe that the U.S. has substantial intelligence that would say that there are indeed such individuals here.

It is a war of words. There's an increasing parade of visitors coming to Damascus today. A junior British foreign office minister is here, the Saudi foreign minister was here earlier. France's foreign minister was here a couple of days ago. All of them delivered the same message to Syria: You must cooperate. There are real issues with the Americans, a lot of them have to do with your continued support for terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and you will have to come to some decisions about what you are going to do about those things.

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