WASHINGTON – Trying to calm a charged atmosphere, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the United States has no plans to go to war with Syria or anyone else to bring democracy to a totalitarian state.
"Iraq was a unique case, where it wasn't just a matter of a dictator being there," Powell said at a news conference with foreign reporters. "There is no war plan to go and attack someone else, either for the purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of imposing democratic values."
"Democratic values have to ultimately come from within a society and within a nation," he said, tempering heated rhetoric from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and some other senior U.S. officials.
Having declared war against terror worldwide, singled out Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil," and then gone to war with Iraq, President Bush has raised fears abroad, particularly in Europe and the Middle East, that the world's only superpower would use its muscle freely against dictatorial regimes.
Accusations that Syria provided Iraq with war materiel, gave haven to senior Iraqi and Baath party officials and permitted Syrian fighters to join the war against the U.S.-led coalition fueled those apprehensions.
And while generally avoiding the harsh words, Powell renewed the accusations against Syria on Tuesday.
But he rejected any suggestion the administration had a list of countries against whom it might send troops again.
"There is no list," he said, even as he registered unhappiness with some policies of Iran as well as Syria.
At the White House, Bush met separately with Powell and with Rumsfeld and took a 20-minute telephone call from French President Jacques Chirac, their first conversation since Feb. 7.
They discussed Syria and the situation in Iraq, and they agreed Syria should not harbor Iraqi leaders, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Chirac also told Bush he wanted to play a "pragmatic role in reconstruction events in Iraq," Fleischer said, offering no details.
"We have differences," the spokesman said. "We still have some of those differences. But that won't stop the president from working in a businesslike and professional way with an ally like France."
By threatening a veto, France prevented the United States and Britain from obtaining approval by the U.N. Security Council of a second resolution approving the use of force to disarm Iraq.
The Anglo-American coalition went to war anyway, relying on an earlier Council resolution threatening Iraq with "serious consequences" for defying U.N. disarmament demands.
At the Pentagon, a U.S. defense official said Syria had not repositioned its military forces in anticipation of any U.S. attack from Iraq.
Other U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Syria had been helpful quietly in the war against the Al Qaeda terror network and there was no evidence that help was abating.
Rumsfeld said U.S. forces in Iraq had reported that they had shut down a pipeline that carried oil from Iraq to Syria in violation of U.N. sanctions.
"Whether it's the only one, and whether that has completely stopped the flow of oil between Iraq and Syria, I cannot tell you," Rumsfeld told reporters. "We do not have perfect knowledge."
Syria does not appear to be anticipating any U.S. attack. Its forces are arrayed against traditional enemy Israel and have made no move toward the Iraqi border, said a U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Officials have also noted that Syria has provided quiet support to the U.S. war on Al Qaeda, and there is no sign that is abating.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "concerned that recent statements directed at Syria should not contribute to a wider destabilization in a region already affected heavily by the war in Iraq." A coalition dominated by the United States and Britain invaded Iraq and ousted President Saddam Hussein's government after failing to obtain approval for action from the United Nations.
Syrian officials have denied having chemical weapons and said the United States has yet to prove similar charges against Iraq. They also have accused Israel of spreading misinformation about Syria.
Fleischer rejected those denials on Monday, calling Syria a rogue nation.
On a related front, Powell urged Israel and the Palestinians to work with the "road map" to peace prepared jointly by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. It is aimed at setting up a Palestinian state on land Israel has held since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Powell said Israeli officials had given the Bush administration "some preliminary comments," and he expected Mahmoud Abbas, longtime deputy of Yasser Arafat soon to be the Palestinians' prime minister, would make some suggestions as well.
Powell also demanded an end to Israel's building homes for Jews on the West Bank and Gaza, where the Palestinians intend to create a state, with part of Jerusalem as its capital.
At the White House, Fleischer said, "As progress is made toward security, the settlements need to end." Which ones are dismantled should be decided by Israel and the Palestinians, with U.S. help, he said.