Senator Clinton Urges Punishment for Syria
By DEVLIN BARRETT
Associated Press Writer
March 1, 2005, 11:46 AM EST
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called Tuesday for tougher punishment against Syria, saying the country was aggressively supporting terrorism in the "dangerous neighborhood" of the Middle East.
In lambasting Syria, Clinton joined a growing chorus of officials in Washington urging the United States to take a harsher stance against that country following a Feb. 14 bombing in Beirut that killed the former premier of Lebanon.
Speaking to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Clinton branded Syria and Iran bad neighbors bent on upsetting the fragile balance in the region.
"It is not only a dangerous neighborhood, but a neighborhood in which very few of the neighbors are committed to what Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon is doing or what we hope to come from the Palestinian leadership," said Clinton.
Iran and Syria "pose such great threats not only to peace and stability, but in Iran's case the potential for nuclear capacity, and in Syria's case, with the continuation of the support for terrorism that flows from Damascus," she said.
Both Iran and Syria were cause for alarm, but Clinton said Syria deserved special attention.
"I've been particularly troubled by the Syrians' aggressive posture," said Clinton. "We need to send a very clear message that we will not tolerate what we believe to be and have reason to know is the continuing support for terrorism that comes out of Syria and Iran."
Clinton, considered an early front-runner for her party's nomination to the White House in 2008, has asked the Bush administration to toughen economic sanctions against Syria.
She was followed to the stage by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who hinted that Syrian President Bashar Assad may find it difficult to hold onto power amid the push for greater democracy in neighboring Lebanon.
"It will be interesting to see what happens inside Syria. ... In this day and age it's hard to be a ruthless dictator," said McConnell.
Syria has come under intense worldwide scrutiny since the bombing that killed former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri and 16 others.
Assad, in an interview published Monday in an Italian newspaper, denied any involvement, saying such a role would spell "political suicide."
The United States already enforces sanctions against Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism, but the criticism has escalated amid complaints that Syria and Iran allow militants to slip across the borders with Iraq to conduct attacks on U.S. forces.
Assad told La Repubblica he believed the U.S. might attack his country, but said such a confrontation would be averted because Damascus is critical to any peace effort.
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