UNITED NATIONS -- The U.S. campaign to disarm Syria prompted a hostile response from Iran and Egypt yesterday, with both suggesting Washington is doing Israel's bidding in its growing conflict with Damascus.
Since its victory in Iraq, the United States has accused Syria of harboring remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, supporting terrorism and developing chemical weapons.
The charges have raised fears throughout the region that Syria is Washington's next target for military action.
While Arab states generally acquiesced in the U.S. effort to disarm Iraq, the campaign to rid Syria of weapons of mass destruction is being portrayed as an example of the double standard Washington applies in the Middle East, calling on Arab states to disarm while ignoring Israel's arsenal, which is generally acknowledged to include nuclear weapons.
By drawing in Israel, which has fought four wars with its Arab neighbors, Egypt and Iran are introducing a volatile new factor into the confrontation between the United States and Syria.
In Cairo yesterday, a senior advisor to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, accused Israel of being the architect of Washington's Syria policy, saying it is aimed at forcing Damascus to make political and military concessions to the Jewish state.
In remarks carried by the official Middle East News Agency, Osama el-Baz was quoted as saying Israel is "the instigator" of the U.S. campaign, which is "aimed at pressuring Syria and twisting its arm to go along with certain proposals."
Israel has long demanded Damascus end its backing for the Lebanese terrorist movement Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, responsible for many attacks on the Jewish state.
In Tehran, Mohammad Khatami, the Iranian President, said Iran will support Syria if it is attacked by the United States, though not militarily. He argued Israel, not Syria, is the aggressor in the Middle East.
"Syria is on the front line against Zionist pressures, defending the cause of the Palestinian nation, freedom and peace in the region," he said.
In an apparent bid to keep attention focused on the Jewish state, Syria yesterday used its seat on the 15-member UN Security Council to introduce a resolution calling for all countries in the Middle East, including Israel, to be free of weapons of mass destruction.
John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said Washington agrees the Middle East should be free of such weapons. However, a U.S. official explained that U.S. policy calls for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states before that can take place.
"As a practical matter, if we are going to make progress towards the goal of regional disarmament, it is going to have to go hand in hand with a just and durable peace," the official said.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and has maintained lukewarm relations with the Jewish state since.
Only Jordan among the 22 Arab states has followed suit with a peace treaty of its own.
The draft resolution introduced by Syria calls on the Security Council to take a central role in countering the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the Middle East by encouraging the region's governments to ratify a series of arms control treaties, including the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
Israel has signed the convention, but never ratified it, while Syria has neither signed nor ratified the convention.
Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State, has said Washington has no plans to attack Syria, but is considering political and economic measures to force it to disarm and co-operate with the United States in its war on terrorism.
Mikhail Wehbe, Syria's ambassador to the UN, said it was "very clear to everybody" the U.S. charges against his country are aimed at shifting attention from the war in Iraq and the "Israeli killing of the Palestinian people."
As for U.S. allegations Syria is hiding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Farouq al-Shara, the Syrian Foreign Minister, told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel, "We're not talking of a shipment of vegetables or fruits which can be transferred that easily.
"Moreover, how can anyone in his right mind [believe] that at the very moment when the United States starts a war against Iraq, Iraq would smuggle out the weapons it is supposed to use if they exist?"
Mr. Negroponte said the United States would "consider" the Syrian resolution, but Washington is more immediately concerned with making sure Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.
Russia and China, both permanent Council members which are authorized nuclear powers under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, are said to support the Syrian draft.
Among non-permanent supporters was Pakistan, a nuclear power that has not signed the Non-proliferation Treaty because it would have to disarm if it did.
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