Powell wins pledge from Syria to restrict Iraqi oil import
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad pledged that Syria will regulate oil imports from Iraq.
Powell told reporters he was assured "three times" by Assad that Syria would only import Iraqi oil under the United Nations oil-for-food program. There was no word from the Syrian government about an agreement.
There was a "solemn agreement" on what was said, Powell said.
The United States claims that Syria has been importing an estimated $2 million a day of Iraqi oil since November. The money from these oil sales is the largest source of hard currency for the Iraqi regime and President Saddam Hussein. The pledge would restrict that flow of oil.
Under the 1996 oil-for-food program, all revenue from sales of Iraqi oil is put into an escrow fund, which is used to buy humanitarian aid and food for the Iraqi people.
"The president said to me, in response to a question, their plan is to bring that pipeline and what's going into that pipeline and the revenue generated by that pipeline to be under the same kind of control as other elements of the sanctions regime," Powell told reporters en route from Damascus to Brussels.
Powell described President George W. Bush as "satisfied" after being told about the one-hour meeting with Assad.
The secretary of state added that he had also discussed the chief reason for his Middle East-Persian Gulf trip -- rebuilding sanctions against Iraq in a "more sensible way."
The essence of the so-called smarter sanctions, explained Powell, is to target Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, not the Iraqi people. That message "resonated" within the region, according to Powell.
He also stressed that modifications of the sanctions must involve tightening of questionable exports to Iraq from neighbors like Jordan and Syria.
Powell described his meeting with Syria's young president as "frank," "direct," "open," and "candid." Assad succeeded his father, Haffez Assad, as president, commander of the military and leader of the ruling Baath Party last year.
Powell said he planned to spend more time exploring options for rebuilding the coalition of support for sanctions with his Europeans contacts Tuesday in Brussels.
On the agenda at NATO headquarters: the European rapid reaction force known as ESDP (European Strategic Defense Plan), national missile defense, NATO expansion and the Balkans.
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