U.S. Probe Focuses on Syria Weapons; Reports Say Nation Has Iraq Arms

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The U.S. government is investigating intelligence reports that Iraq sent weapons to Syria to hide them from U.N. inspectors and coalition troops in Iraq, a senior State Department official said yesterday.

John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, also told a House International Relations subcommittee that Syria is developing medium-range missiles with help from North Korea and Iran that could be fired in nerve gas attacks hundreds of miles from Syria's borders.

He testified in open and closed sessions that Syria continues to take hostile actions against U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq by permitting sympathizers of Saddam Hussein to enter Iraq to kill Americans.

"Syria permitted volunteers to pass into Iraq to attack and kill our service members during the war, and is still doing so," Mr. Bolton said.

"September 11, we were reminded of the need to remain steadfast in recognizing emerging threats to our security," Mr. Bolton said. "In Syria, we see expanding [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities and continued state sponsorship of terrorism."

Mr. Bolton said that "we cannot allow the world's most dangerous weapons to fall into the hands of the world's most dangerous regimes, and will work tirelessly to ensure this is not the case for Syria."

Syria has purchased nuclear goods that indicate it may use a Chinese-made reactor to build nuclear arms, he said.

Also, the Syrians are working on offensive biological weapons, he said.

Mr. Bolton stated that Syria has several hundred Scud and SS-21 short-range missiles and has built a longer-range Scud D with help from North Korea. The Scud D has a range of some 310 miles and Syria test-fired one in 2000.

Some of the missiles can be outfitted with deadly nerve gas warheads, Mr. Bolton said.

During a closed-door session, Mr. Bolton showed the committee a map highlighting the ranges of Syrian missiles and future missiles, including a version of the North Korean Nodong that has a range of 620 miles, enough to hit targets throughout the Middle East.

Syria has one of the most advanced chemical weapons programs in the Arab world that includes the nerve agent sarin and the more deadly nerve gas known as VX, Mr. Bolton said.

"Syria's missiles are mobile and can reach much of Israel from positions near their peacetime garrisons and portions of Iraq, Jordan and Turkey from launch sites well within the country," Mr. Bolton said in his prepared testimony.

"Damascus is pursuing both solid- and liquid-propellant missile programs and relies extensively on foreign assistance in these endeavors," he said. …