Powell To Arrive In Damascus For 'Candid' Talks

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State Colin Powell is due in Damascus on Friday for what are expected to be tough talks with the Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Farouk Shara.

Relations between the U.S. and Syria have been strained over charges that Syria is hiding Iraqi officials fleeing U.S.-led troops and that it allowed volunteers and military equipment to cross its border into Iraq to be used against the coalition forces.

Syria denied the charges but softened its tone once coalition forces were victorious. "We will speak candidly about some of the disagreements we had with Syria in recent weeks, as the war was being conducted and concluded," Powell said Thursday.

"They are going to have a new and different kind of neighbor than the neighbor they had for the last 20-odd years... I will encourage them to review these changes, and take a look at some of their past policies, and see whether those policies seem to be relevant in light of a new, changed situation."

Earlier this week Powell told a Senate subcommittee meeting that U.S. forces had cut off the flow of oil from an Iraqi pipeline into Syria.

"Syria got a clear indication that the world is losing patience with those nations that support terrorism, with those nations that continue to move down a path toward development of weapons of mass destruction."

Experts have said that Syria is far more dangerous in terms of its support of terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction Iraq was.

In a visit to Damascus last weekend, U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos said he outlined a series of steps to Assad that Damascus needed to undertake into order to pursuer a "new direction."

Among them, the closing of some 10 to 12 headquarters of terrorist organizations hosted by Damascus; terminating direct and indirect military assistance to Hizballah; evacuating some 20,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon; and allowing the Lebanese army to take positions along the entire Israeli-Lebanese border, much of which is under Hizballah control.

Lantos said that Powell would take up these issues in Damascus on his visit.

Powell is also expected to press Damascus not to disrupt the newly presented "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have rejected the road map and vowed to continue terror attacks, are both based in Damascus.

Powell will not be visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority on this trip, although unconfirmed reports have said that he will return to the region in another week to meet with leaders on both sides to discuss the road map's implementation.