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US envoy to Iraq warns Syrians

Reports interference across the border

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned yesterday that US ''patience is running out" with what he said was Syrian interference across the border. He also refused to rule out either a military strike or sanctions through the United Nations.

Syria, officials say, has become a hub for terrorists, as young people travel through the Damascus airport on one-way tickets, Khalilzad said. The United States also has accused Syria of turning a blind eye to terrorism camps on its soil.

''Our patience is running out, the patience of Iraqis are running out. The time for decision . . . has arrived for Damascus," Khalilzad said at the State Department.

The United States is campaigning to increase pressure on Syria in several foreign capitals, and at the UN General Assembly this week in New York.

Syria's possible link to uprisings in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon is a subject of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's talks at the UN gathering.

A State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, echoed Khalilzad's comments.

''What we're looking for is, as Ambassador Khalilzad said, is a decision by the government of Syria to get serious about preventing its territory from being used by insurgents and others bent on destabilizing Iraq and killing innocent Iraqis."

Khalilzad is in Washington to accompany the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, as he visits the White House and meets with members of Congress.

The ambassador offered no proof for what he called blatant interference by Syria in Iraq's democratic development; he also declined to spell out what consequences Damascus might face.

Asked specifically about reproach from the UN Security Council or possible military action, Khalilzad had the same response: ''All options are on the table."

With US military force stretched thin by the war in Iraq, a large-scale invasion of neighboring Syria is viewed as unlikely.

The United States or an ally could, however, launch airstrikes on suspected terrorist camps or other sites.

The UN Security Council could also chastise Syria or impose sanctions.

At the urging of the United States and France, the Security Council voted last year to issue a strong denunciation of Syrian influence over neighboring Lebanon, and it called for an immediate withdrawal.

Most of the guerrilla forces battling US troops and Iraqi army and security forces are part of an indigenous insurgency dominated by Sunni Arabs angered by the new Shi'ite-Kurdish dominance of internal Iraqi politics.

By US estimates, foreign fighters make up less than 10 percent of the opposing force. US military commanders say the foreign forces may carry out suicide bombings, making them more dangerous than their numbers might indicate. Iraqi leaders also say that most, if not all, of those foreigners are entering Iraq across the a porous Syrian border.

''The Syrians have to stop sending destruction to Iraq," Iraq Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi said in Baghdad. ''We know the terrorists have no other gateway into Iraq but Syria."

A Syrian Foreign Ministry official reacted angrily Monday, rejecting the Iraqi claim as ''absolutely untrue." The official Syrian news agency SANA, in Damascus, did not name the official whom it quoted as having said: ''Iraqi officials are fully aware that Syria is exerting all-out efforts to control the borders."

Syria announced new measures to crack down on border infiltration in July, and has complained that US and Iraqi forces have mistakenly shot at Syrian soldiers trying to police the border.

The Bush administration's pressure on Syria over Iraq is similar to an effort last year to dislodge Syrian troops from Lebanon. Syria first ignored the United Nations demand, but did pull its troops out this spring after weeks of anti-Syrian street rallies and political turmoil.

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