Syria: Friend or Foe in the War on Terror?

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This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, September 16, 2003.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Senior U.S. officials say Syria (search) continues to send guerrillas into Iraq with one mission: to assassinate American soldiers.

Judith Miller Of The New York Times has more from Washington.

Judith, is the United States suggesting that Syria is complicit with terrorists, sending people into Iraq to kill American soldiers, or negligent with its borders?

JUDITH MILLER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think what Undersecretary of State John Bolton (search) was saying today, Greta, was that they have not done what they said they would do to stop this transfer, this traffic in militants across the border. In a state like Syria, that is a police state, according to the administration, Syria must know that this is going on.

And despite its pledges to Washington and to Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), they have not clamped down. And as a result, hundreds of people have gone across. And one estimate I was given was as many as 6,000 militants had gone across into Iraq to kill Americans from the beginning of the war until now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Judith, is there a solution? What's the plan? The United States isn't just going to sort of sit there and let the borders bleed from Syria into Iraq with these militants. What's the administration going to do?

MILLER: Well, right now, the administration is only beginning to think about sanctions, if you believe both administration officials and the Congress. The hearing today on Capitol Hill, which was a House International Relations subcommittee, was exploring a measure that would require the administration to impose economic sanctions on Syria.

Some members of Congress say, “Look, we can't even control our own border, the Mexican border. How should the Syrians be able to control their border?” But there's a little bit of difference between Syria and the United States, a 700-kilometer border and our own. And also, we don't have a war next to us in Mexico.

So the administration is trying still to talk to the Syrians, to persuade them to do the right thing. Syria says, by the way, that it's doing everything that it can and that these charges are baseless. So it's a question, at this point, of whom one believes.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. There's also an allegation by the administration that Syria has an ambitious program for weapons of mass destruction. What can you tell us about that?

MILLER: Well, Secretary Bolton, once again, said in his comments today that the administration remains very concerned about Syrian activities both in the chemical sphere and in the biological weapons program. He provided very few details, Greta, about biological weapons, but he did say that the chemical program was of great concern, that there were stockpiles of sarin gas, that Syria had warheads that could carry chemical weapons.

I think one thing that was really striking about today was Congressman [Gary]Ackerman of New York, a Democrat, he asked the administration and asked Mr. Bolton, “Is your information on Syria any better than it was on Iraq?” Because there is a lot of skepticism on the Hill about how good American intelligence is, when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the answer was by Mr. Bolton, when he was confronted with that question?

MILLER: Mr. Bolton said that every agency, all of the intelligence community — that is, the various agencies that are part of that community — agreed with what he was telling members of Congress today both in the public session and in a private session that I could not attend.

VAN SUSTEREN: Judith, the thing that I don't understand… is there the feeling that the United States has been double-crossed by Syria or that Syria is really up to no good, or is it just that Syria has been lax and irresponsible and negligent?

MILLER: I think the feeling is that the Syrians are corrupt, in that some officials at a local level — and perhaps even higher than that — are taking money to help both the militants who want to get into Iraq and perhaps Iraqis who want to get things out of the country, and that they're trying to basically have it both ways.

That's what administration officials tell me, that Syria wants to be part of the anti-terrorism club. In fact, the Syrian officials are adamant that they are part of it, they consider themselves part of it, but the administration says “No, actions speak louder than words. We don't see the actions that match Syrian rhetoric.” And that's what they want to Syrians to live up to their commitments.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Judith. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

MILLER: Thank you, Greta.

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