Secretary of State Colin Powell finished a quick trip to the Middle East by meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad and extracting a promise that Syria would bring a pipeline to Iraq under the U.N. sanctions regime.
That even though Powell plans to suggest a change in U.S. sanctions policy allowing civilian goods to flow more freely to Saddam Hussein's command, according to a senior U.S. official.
Powell, on his first Middle East visit since taking office in January, had already visited Egypt, Israel, Palestinian self-rule areas, Jordan and Kuwait. After the talks he left Damascus heading for Brussels.
Powell told reporters that Assad gave him the pipeline pledge three times at a meeting Monday night.
He said, "The president said to me that they plan to bring that pipeline and what is going through that pipeline and revenues generated in that pipeline to be under the same control as other elements of the sanctions regime."
Syria has said the pipeline is open for tests, but industry sources say it has been pumping about 100,000 barrels of Iraqi oil a day since November, bypassing the U.N. system and paying revenues straight into Baghdad's pocket.
He said Assad affirmed Syria's commitment to the peace negotiations, which should be based U.N. resolutions and the principle of land for peace.
The Syria media, in advance of Powell's arrival, accused the Bush administration of a "double standard," leaning heavily on Iraq while declining to get tough with Isael.
Powell is trying to persuade the Arabs to maintain U.N. sanctions on Iraq. But he is running into complaints the Iraqi people are suffering as a result of the economic restraints.
In Riyadh, Powell met Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and paid a courtesy call on King Fahd. Saudi Arabia, arch rival of Iraq since the Gulf crisis and a key regional U.S. ally, has joined other Arab states in condemning recent U.S.-British air strikes against Baghdad's air defenses.
The official Saudi Press Agency quoted Prince Saud as saying the two sides had agreed "on the need to review sanctions imposed against Iraq and to find a way to end the suffering of the Iraqi people while ensuring the Iraqi regime's compliance with Security Council resolutions."
Powell found this concern echoed by other Arab leaders in his first extensive trip to the region and will suggest the modifications to Mr. Bush after he returns home Tuesday night, said the senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official said the United States would concentrate sanctions on military equipment, denying Saddam material to rebuild weapons. At the same time, he said, the United States would like to relax curbs on civilian goods.
Still, a decision may take some time, although the aim is to reach one before an Arab summit scheduled for late March in Jordan.
Iraqi officials also were holding talks Monday and Tuesday at the United Nations to make plea for ending economic sanctions.
Also during Powell's Mideast swing:
- In Kuwait, during a ceremony on the 10th anniversary of that country's liberation, Powell pledged that "freedom will live and prosper in this part of the world" in spite of Saddam. He joined former President George Bush and Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander in the Gulf War against Iraq, in laying a wreath at the U.S. Embassy in tribute to the approximately 300 Americans who died in the 1991 conflict.
- On Sunday, Powell endorsed a Palestinian demand by urging Israel to lift an economic "siege" of the West Bank and Gaza as soon as possible. The constraints, which include a ban on Palestinian workers going to their jobs in Israel and the withholding of tax revenues, do nothing to improve the security situation, Powell said after a two-hour meeting with Yasser Arafat at his headquarters. Still, Powell said the Bush administration's commitment to Israeli security was "rock-hard."
- While in Saudi Arabia, Powell delivered a request from FBI Director Louis Freeh asking that U.S. investigators be allowed to question two or more suspects in the Khobar Towers bombing the 1996 truck bomb attack that left 19 U.S. Air Force personnel dead.
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