Washington to Syria: Hand over Saddam’s WMD First

Sunday, April 20, Damascus surrendered a top official of the Saddam Hussein’s regime, one of the eight granted sanctuary (as listed by debkafile last Friday, April 18), Republican Guards secretary Kemal Mustafa al Tikriti, who is married to Saddam’s youngest daughter. The Syrians pushed him across the border to Iraq where he ‘surrendered” to US forces.
This was Syrian president Bashar Assad’s first response to the newly-delivered US ultimatum: deliver Iraq’s WMD and regime leaders or face military action. President George W. Bush noted with satisfaction that Syria was beginning to “understand the message”. But, according to debkafile‘s Washington sources, the handover of all the high-ranking Iraqi fugitives sheltering in Syria will not satisfy the US government or get it off the Assad government’s back. The US ultimatum to Damascus consists of three demands, to be followed in the same order:
First,give up the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam has secretly hidden in Syria.
Second, return to Iraq all the officials of the Saddam regime granted asylum.
Last Friday, debkafile listed the top eight as being: former vice president Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri, Saddam’s bureau chief Abd Hamoud, Baath party boss Aziz Salah, special security service chief Hanni Tefalah, Republican Guards Secretary Kemal Mustafa, Republican Guards Commander Seif A-Din Suleih, Iraqi Intelligence Commander Taher Jaloul and Special Republican Guards commander, Gen. Barzan Suleiman Tikriti.
Kemal Mustafa was handed over Sunday.
Third,disband the command structures of the Hizballah, Hamas, Jihad Islami and other Palestinian terrorist groups operating out of Lebanon and Damascus and give their leaders into American hands.
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and other Arab emissaries, diplomatic and covert, who called on the Syrian president on Sunday laid stress on the first of the three demands as paramount. They warned him that Bush and his team will not rest as long as Syria withholds the evidence to show the world that America fought a just war against Iraq. The evidence that Saddam developed weapons of mass destruction is hidden in Syria. Washington may hold back a few days but, ultimately, Assad will not be allowed to dictate the way the war ends by denying the United States the primary fruits of victory – and not just over Saddam and his regime. Exposure of his banned arsenal will show up the error of those opposed the war, the United Nations, France, Germany, Russia and international anti-war opinion.
The Syrian ruler’s responded initially to the triple demand by an offer to gradually turn over the eight Iraqi leaders. He denied knowledge of any weapons of mass destruction hidden in Syria but promised to check again. In confidence, he told his close aides, according to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, that baring a single Iraqi unconventional weapon to the Americans would be suicidal for him, whether personally or as an Arab leader. He dare not stand out as the first and only Arab leader to surrender an Islamic weapon of mass destruction to the United States. As for the terrorist groups that Syria sponsors and hosts, Assad declared firmly that he will always regard them as freedom fighters – not terrorists.
These maneuvers were the Syrian president’s way of defusing the bomb Washington had laid at his feet by breaking it down into components. It is hard to imagine Washington letting him get away with this tactic. debkafile‘s Washington and Middle East sources all agree that, while welcoming the handover of Saddam’s list of eight, the Bush administration will not relent on its first and primary demand for the forbidden weapons arsenal. If Syria fails to hand it over voluntarily, the United States will take forcible action to recover it from its hiding place.
The ultimatum to Assad was not the only one Washington delivered Sunday, April 20, to a Middle East figure.
The second one went to Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
The day before, on Saturday, the penny dropped in Washington that the wrangling between Arafat and the first Palestinian prime minister designate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) over the makeup of the new government was not as aimless as it looked. Arafat was keeping the heat up to distract attention from his next move, which was to be to dump the intransigent Abu Mazen in favor of his long-time pawn Nabil Shaath, to whom Abu Mazen had refused to award an influential post in his lineup. Arafat dispatched Shaath to Cairo where he normally resides to test the response in Hosni Murabak’s inner circle to his appointment. However, Washington struck fast on two tracks. A request went to the president’s office in Cairo not to receive the new Palestinian candidate; a stern US ultimatum was relayed to Arafat: Any more interference with Abu Mazen’s attempts to set up a Palestinian government will result not only in prolonging the international boycott of Arafat in person, but cause the scrapping of the Middle East road map promising the Palestinians a state.
Arafat’s response is now awaited in Washington. It would be in character from him to employ dilatory tactics like Assad. Both appear to find it difficult to adjust to the fresh impetus and determination with which the Iraqi War has infused Washington’s Middle East strategy.

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