WASHINGTON (May. 5)
High-ranking Clinton administration officials have told Jewish leaders that Syria will remain on the State Department’s list of countries supporting terrorism.
According to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, government officials told the group that Syria will not be dropped from the administration’s annual report on state-sponsored terrorism, which is due to be released within days.
A source at the State Department said there was no reason to dispute the Conference of President’s statement.
There had been some speculation that Syria might be dropped from the list in light of recent developments both within that country and in the Middle East region.
The Syrian government had recently arrested and then released several leaders of the Iranian-backed Party of God terrorist group, and it had also shut down two training camps of the Abu Nidal group, according to the Conference of Presidents.
In addition, in meetings last week with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Syrian President Hafez Assad apparently indicated continued interest in negotiating peace with Israel.
These moves have been seen by many as an attempt by Syria to get into the United States’ good graces.
Syria is anxious to be taken off the list of nations that sponsor terrorism because those on the list are not eligible to receive U.S. foreign aid or purchase U.S. military supplies.
Last month, President Clinton decided to keep Syria on a list of countries who have not cooperated with the United States or made efforts of their own to combat drug trafficking.
‘DAMASCUS MUST COME A LONG, LONG WAY’
Clinton followed the recommendation of Christopher, who reportedly disagreed with other State Department officials who sought to remove Syria from the list as a reward for its cooperation in the Middle East peace process.
“While any sign of improvement in Syrian behavior is welcome, the Damascus regime must come a long, long way before it could be considered for removal from the list of terrorist-supporting states,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents.
“Scores of terrorist groups continue to operate freely in Syria, and many are headquartered there,” he added.
Some observers familiar with the terrorism issue said this year’s State Department report could be delayed because the administration is waiting for Syria’s reaction to Christopher’s recent round of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East.
Christopher spent most of the past two weeks traveling to Jerusalem, Cairo and Damascus in efforts to facilitate negotiations being carried out between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The secretary is due back in the region later this month for further talks.
On Wednesday in Cairo, Christopher presided over the signing of an implementation accord by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that will begin the process of Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho.
In the days prior to the signing, Christopher met with Assad in Damascus to discuss an Israeli proposal for withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for the establishment of full diplomatic relations.
A source at the State Department said there was no link between Christopher’s trip and Syria’s status in the terrorism report.
Hoenlein said the State Department’s delay in releasing the report had nothing to do with peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.
He called Syria’s record on terrorism “a separate issue.”