State Dept. summons Syria envoy on arms transfers


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration "condemned in the strongest terms" Syria’s alleged transfer of arms to Hezbollah and suggested that Syria’s actions would affect renewed bilateral relations.

The administration summoned Syria’s top envoy to discuss the transfers, a sign that it has evidence contradicting Syria’s persistent denials.

"The most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah," the U.S. State Department spokesman, Gordon Duguid, said in a statement Tuesday. "This was the fourth occasion on which these concerns have been raised to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, intended to further amplify our messages communicated to the Syrian government."

Israel made public its concerns about reported arms transfers last week; Duguid’s timeline of four encounters in "recent months" suggested that the U.S. concern about the matter predated Israeli announcements.

"The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the SCUD, from Syria to Hizballah," the statement said. "The transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon. The risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah."

Obama in recent months has begun to roll back some of the U.S. isolation of Syria implemented during the Bush administration. He has nominated an ambassador to Syria for the first time since 2005, and has spoken of "enhanced" relations.

Syria wants above all to be removed from the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring nations, an action that would open up possibilities for commercial and other ties.

Duguid made clear that the arms transfers could bury that possibility.

"Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah," he said.

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