Syrian Says Israel Drives U.S. Policy

By BARRY SCHWEID
The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 25, 2006; 4:15 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, driven by ideologues and lobbyists, is in lockstep with Israel in its 2-week-old battle against Hezbollah while promoting diplomacy unlikely to succeed, Syria's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday.

In an Associated Press interview, Imad Moustapha said all Syrian intelligence agents had left Lebanon along with the country's troops and that Syria was not providing Hezbollah militia with missiles.

The troops were withdrawn last year under U.N. Security Council pressure, but doubts have persisted that Syria ended its intelligence presence as a means of maintaining influence in Lebanon. Moustapha said flatly: "We do not have a single soldier or agent in Lebanon."

Hezbollah has its own sources of arms, Moustapha said, while contending that ideologues in the Bush administration and pro-Israeli lobbyists are driving U.S. support for Israel to unprecedented levels. "What Israel says is immediately adopted" by the administration, he said. "Whatever Israel wants becomes immediate U.S. policy in the Middle East."

Israel holds 9,000 Arab prisoners in its jails and yet is projected as "an angel of peace," Moustapha said.

While Syria supports Hezbollah and also the Palestinian group Hamas, Hezbollah is "an autonomous movement" and "we are not engaged, we are not involved in logistics," he said.

"We do not believe in Syria that Hezbollah needs any military support from Syria," Moustapha added.

And, he said, "Hezbollah has not asked us for any military help," while the United States supplies Israel with weapons that are destroying Lebanon and killing women and children.

The United States has long alleged that Iran is Hezbollah's principal source of weapons, with shipments made through Damascus airport.

Moustapha said the United States has not talked at all to the Syrian government about the current crisis and he suggested that U.S. diplomatic efforts would not succeed. For one thing, he said, Lebanon would immediately "disintegrate" if required to move troops into the south and disarm Hezbollah.

Deriding U.S. efforts on several fronts, including humanitarian aid, he said, "I don't know which cargo will reach the Middle East first, the blankets or the laser bombs (for Israel)."

In contrast to a lack of U.S. contact, the ambassador said Syria had been in touch with several European governments and President Bashar Assad had talked to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

On Monday, the administration announced a $30 million package for battered Lebanon that includes medical supplies and blankets.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the region trying to promote a lasting cease-fire that would disarm Hezbollah, move the Lebanese army to the south and install an international security force.

Meanwhile, Moustapha said, the U.S. is not using its leverage on Israel to promote an end to the fighting based on an exchange of prisoners held by Israel for two captured soldiers held by Hezbollah.

© 2006 The Associated Press