by Con Coughlin / The Telegraph (London) –
LONDON (January 25, 2004) — David Kay, the former head of the coalition’s hunt for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, yesterday claimed that part of Saddam Hussein’s secret weapons programme was hidden in Syria.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Dr Kay, who last week resigned as head of the Iraq Survey Group, said that he had uncovered evidence that unspecified materials had been moved to Syria shortly before last year’s war to overthrow Saddam.
“We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons,” he said. “But we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam’s WMD programme. Precisely what went to Syria, and what has happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved.”
Dr Kay’s comments will intensify pressure on President Bashar Assad to clarify the extent of his co-operation with Saddam’s regime and details of Syria’s WMD programme. Mr Assad has said that Syria was entitled to defend itself by acquiring its own biological and chemical weapons arsenal.
Syria was one of Iraq’s main allies in the run-up to the war and hundreds of Iraqi officials – including members of Saddam’s family – were given refuge in Damascus after the collapse of the Iraqi dictator’s regime. Many of the foreign fighters responsible for conducting terrorist attacks against the coalition are believed to have entered Iraq through Syria.
A Syrian official last night said: “These allegations have been raised many times in the past by Israeli
We Won’t Scrap WMDs Unless Israel Does, Says Assad
The Syrian president talks exclusively to Benedict Brogan / The Telegraph
DAMASCUS (January 6, 2004) –Syria is entitled to defend itself by acquiring its own chemical and biological deterrent, President Bashar Assad said last night as he rejected American and British demands for concessions on weapons of mass destruction.
In his first major statement since Libya’s decision last month to scrap its nuclear and chemical programmes, he came closer than ever before to admitting that his country possessed stockpiles of WMD.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Assad said that any deal to destroy Syria’s chemical and biological capability would come about only if Israel agreed to abandon its undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Since the capture of Saddam Hussein and Col Muammar Gaddafi’s decision to dismantle his WMD programme, Mr Assad has risen towards the top of America’s target list.
The White House and Downing Street have been waiting for his response to Col Gaddafi’s appeal for other Arab leaders to follow his example or risk inflicting a “tragedy” on their people.
President Assad spoke for more than 90 minutes at his discreet villa, which he prefers to the grand palace overlooking Damascus built by his father, the late Hafez Assad.
Asked about American and British claims that Syria had a WMD capability, he stopped short of the categorical denial that has been his government’s stock response until now.
Instead, he pointed to the Israelis’ recent attack on alleged Palestinian bases in Syria and the occupation of the Golan Heights as evidence that Syria needed a deterrent. “We are a country which is [partly] occupied and from time to time we are exposed to Israeli aggression,” he said. “It is natural for us to look for means to defend ourselves. It is not difficult to get most of these weapons anywhere in the world and they can be obtained at any time.”
Mr Assad said that Col Gaddafi’s surprise decision to allow international inspectors to supervise the dismantling of WMD programmes was a “correct step”.
He called on the international community to support the proposal that Syria presented to the United Nations last year for removing all WMD from the Middle East, including Israel’s nuclear stockpile. “Unless this applies to all countries, we are wasting our time.”
It is the worst kept secret in the Middle East that Damascus has one of the largest stockpiles of chemical agents in the region.
The latest CIA report on weapons of mass destruction says: “Syria continued to seek CW-related expertise from foreign sources [this year]. Damascus already held a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin but apparently tried to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. It is highly probable that Syria also continued to develop an offensive BW [biological weapon] capability.”
Mr Assad tempered his refusal to compromise on WMD by holding out the prospect of joint patrols with America along the Syria-Iraq border to prevent the passage of arms and fighters.
Acknowledging pressure from the US and Britain to crack down on Palestinian extremists based in Syria, he claimed that their offices had been closed and their activities curtailed. The groups could no longer “do anything military from these places. They are closed”.
But he risked infuriating the West by stepping up his defence of Palestinian suicide bombers. He said the attacks had become “a reality we cannot control” and blamed them on “the Israeli killings, the Israeli occupations”.
Despite his passionate advocacy of the Palestinian cause and his use in the past of inflammatory language about Israel and Jews, he denied hating them. “If you hate, you cannot talk about peace,” he said.
Mr Assad repeated Syria’s offer to resume negotiations with Israel over the occupation of the Golan Heights which were interrupted when a deal was in sight nearly a decade ago. But he said that an agreement was impossible as long as Israel insisted on starting negotiations from scratch rather than picking up where they left off.
Tony Blair, speaking on a flight back from Iraq before news emerged of the Assad interview, repeated his hope that Syria would follow Libya’s example.
He said: “We offer Syria the possibility of a partnership for the future. But it is important that they realise that the terms are very clear and have been set out by ourselves and the Americans many times.
“You can see very clearly with what happened just before Christmas in respect of Libya that it is important to say to countries that may have engaged in such programmes: ‘Look, there is a different way of dealing with this.’
“It can be dealt with diplomatically if people are prepared to do so, but it does have to be dealt with.”