Syria said today that it would not allow arms inspections on its soil but would join forces with the world to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, in line with a proposal it has submitted to the United Nations.

Washington has accused Syria of developing chemical weapons, a charge the Arab state denies. On Wednesday, Damascus asked the U.N. Security Council to help transform the region into a zone free of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo today, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Charaa said: "After this initiative, this Syrian proposal . . . Syria won't allow any inspection. It will only participate with its [Arab] brothers and all of the states of the world in turning the Middle East into an area free of weapons of mass destruction."

It was not clear if his remarks were a departure from Syria's previously stated position that it would only allow weapons inspections if they applied to all regional states, including Israel, which is widely believed to have nuclear arms. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Damascus declined to expand on Charaa's comments.

Syria's deputy ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustapha, told a U.S. television program on Sunday that Syria would welcome U.S. inspections of the arms programs of all Middle Eastern countries as long as they included Israel.

The United States has threatened sanctions against Syria over charges it is developing weapons of mass destruction, hiding deposed Iraqi leaders and supporting terrorism. Analysts say the threats aim to put pressure on Syria to stop aiding anti-Israeli militant groups.

Charaa said the accusations were serving Israel and were also partly aimed at diverting attention from problems faced by U.S. forces in their war against Iraq.

Asked about media reports of a possible trip to Syria by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Charaa said Powell would be welcome in Damascus "because we believe dialogue between the two countries is important."

Syria has circulated a draft U.N. resolution welcoming initiatives to rid the region of weapons of mass destruction. The draft calls on the Security Council to take a central role in countering the spread of those weapons in the region and urges Middle Eastern governments to ratify a series of arms control treaties.

Charaa told reporters at the Arab League today that if the 15-nation Security Council did not issue such a resolution, nobody had the right to ask what arms Syria did or did not possess.

Syria has neither signed nor ratified a 1993 international agreement banning chemical weapons. Israel has signed the convention but never ratified it.