WASHINGTON (Aug. 30)
The State Department announced Friday that it will return the United States Ambassador to Damascus in “response to positive steps” Syria has taken against terrorism. U.S. envoy William Eagleton was recalled last October after Syria was implicated in the attempted bombing of an EI AI plane in London in April 1986.
“Our information shows a decrease in levels of Syrian support for terrorist activities and some other groups,” said State Department spokesperson Phyllis Oakley. “Syria has closed the Abu Nidal organization offices in Damascus and expelled all known Abu Nidal organization personnel,” she added. Oakley said the decision to return Eagleton was not related to the escape earlier this month of journalist Charles Glass from captors in Lebanon. “We’ve certainly expressed our appreciation for the efforts that the Syrians made on behalf of Glass,” she explained. “I don’t think we had ever spelled out our problems with Syria in terms of hostages, it was always in relationship to their support of terrorism.”
Although Glass said that he escaped from his captors, Syria had sought his freedom during a time when its army controlled Beirut.
Despite the return of the envoy, economic sanctions imposed against Syria last November remain in effect. These included restrictions on U.S. exports, a ban on the selling of tickets in the U.S. for the Syrian national airline and a reduction in the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and the Syrian Embassy here.
PRECONDITIONS FOR DROPPING SANCTIONS
The State Department said the shutting down of terrorist groups operating from Syrian-controlled territory in Lebanon, in addition to the closing of the Abu Nidal offices, were preconditions for dropping its sanctions.
Syria has been on the State Department’s list of countries promoting terrorism since 1979 although it wasn’t directly implicated in any terrorist activity until the trial last year of Nezar Hindawi, convicted of hijacking an EI AI jet departing from London.
During the trial it was revealed that Hindawi traveled to London from Damascus with a Syrian passport, and had fled to the Syrian Embassy after the bomb plot was uncovered. There was also evidence that he had been assisted by Syrian intelligence sources. Syria denied the charges. At that time, Britain also broke off relations with Syria.
Oakley noted that the State Department continues to worry about the Syrian military presence in regions of Lebanon.