Powell Confronts, Assad Prevaricates

Syria is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources as having secretly disposed of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction by moving them into eastern Lebanon for burial in the Beqaa Valley. Iraq’s biological weapons may be there too. They were interred deep under the heroin poppy and cotton fields in two of the most fertile regions of Lebanon: the valley stretching between Jabal Akroum, the town of al Qbayyat and the Syrian border, and the land lying between the towns of Al Hirmil and al Labwah between the Orontes River and the Syrian frontier.
On February 14, about a month before the start of the war in Iraq, DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue 97 ran an article captioned “Is Iraq’s WMD cache in Lebanon available to Al Qaeda?” To subscribe to DNW click HERE
Now, our intelligence sources can disclose exclusively that the relocation of Iraq’s WMD systems took place between January 10 and March 10 and was completed just 10 days before the US-led offensive was launched against Iraq. The banned arsenal, hauled in giant tankers from Iraq to Syria and from there to the Bekaa Valley under Syrian special forces and military intelligence escort, was discharged into pits 6-8 meters across and 25-35 meters deep dug by Syrian army engineers. They were sealed and planted over with new seedlings. Nonetheless, their location is known and detectable with the right instruments. Our sources have learned that Syria was paid about $35 million to make Saddam Hussein’s forbidden weapons disappear.
Before US secretary of state Colin Powell arrived in Damascus on Saturday, May 3, the Syrians made the placatory gesture to Washington of speeding and upgrading the handover of Iraqi fugitives from the Saddam regime sheltering in Syria
DEBKA-Net-Weekly has learned from its most exclusive sources that on Monday, April 28, Dr. RihabTaha, a microbiologist known as Dr. Germ, was turned over to the Americans in Iraq. She had directed Iraq’s biological weapons program. Also turned over was Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, who headed Iraq’s anthrax project. No announcement was made of their capture. However, the surrender 24 hours later of Taha’s husband, General Amir Muhammed Rasheed, director of Iraq’s missile development program and best known by his nickname “The Missile Man”, was announced.
The United States is therefore fully apprised of the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of unconventional weapons and has taken custody of the scientists who developed them.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say Washington was nevertheless far from placated and Powell’s meeting with the Syrian president Saturday was a confrontation. The secretary of state laid down the following demands:
1. A map with the coordinates of the pits holding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
2. Surrender of Saddam’s most senior insiders who fled to Aleppo and Latakiya. After debkafile blew the whistle on April 3, the group staying at the Cote D’Azur De Cham Resort in Latakia was whisked away leaving their families comfortably ensconced there.
3. Handover of the two senior Al Qaeda members now in Damascus. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources say their names and whereabouts were uncovered by US intelligence units in Iraq.
4. An explanation of Syrian motives in allowing two British terrorists, Assif Hanif, who blew himself up in Tel Aviv on April 30, and Omar Khan Sharif, who ran away, to transit Damascus en route to Israel. (One of the duo spent four months of preparation in the Syrian capital with the Hamas operations officer and associate of Hizballah Imad al-Alami, as reported exclusively by debkafile.)
5. An immediate stop to the military-terrorist activities of the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Syria and Lebanon. Failure to do so, Powell explained, will result in a painful tightening of economic pressure on Syria, after the loss of $1b in oil revenues from Baghdad.
Powell suggested that Assad invite Abu Mazen, the new Palestinian prime minister, to Damascus. This step would further underline Yasser Arafat’s state of isolation in view of his never having been received in Damascus. It could lead to an invitation from the Bush administration to invite the leaders of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq’s new regime and the Palestinians to a regional conference that would set the stage for Syrian and Palestinian peace negotiations with Israel.
Powell told Assad bluntly to choose between confrontation and negotiations.
At the same time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East experts stress that Powell’s stance was tough yet exploratory. The Bush administration is still in option-weighing mode, pondering how best to proceed in the post Iraq war era to achieve its two main objectives: One is to advance America’s long-range strategic goals in the Middle East. The second is to get Bush re-elected as President in November 2004.

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