The United States has warned Syria on at least five occasions since February that supplying Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon could spark a regional war, the State Department's point man for the Middle East said yesterday (see GSN, April 20).
Providing Scud missiles to the militant group would be "an incendiary, provocative action" that "could affect war and peace" in the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
Feltman did not verify allegations that Syria delivered the weapons, the Associated Press reported. Israel first publicly leveled the accusation, prompting denials from Damascus and Lebanon.
Scuds can fly farther and be tipped with significantly larger warheads than rockets known to be in Hezbollah's arsenal, AP reported. They could hit any site in Israel from Lebanon and have the capacity to carry chemical warfare warheads.
U.S. diplomats met with Syria's ambassador to Washington starting Feb. 26 "because we were so concerned with information we had that Syria was passing increasingly sophisticated ballistic weapons to Hezbollah," Feltman said. He added that the Obama administration further noted its concern with the ambassador or his subordinate on March 1, March 10 and March 19.
Feltman said he discussed the issue with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem by telephone yesterday. He urged lawmakers to confirm a new U.S. ambassador to Damascus to help communicate Washington's concerns to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Some U.S. legislators, though, referred to the Scud allegations as possible grounds for blocking the appointment of diplomat Robert Ford, who would be the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in a half-decade (Matthew Lee, Associated Press/Google News, April 21).
Some members of the House panel suggested Syrian actions were placing in question efforts to improve Washington's ties with Damascus, Reuters reported.
"Do we actually have a policy toward Syria, and is it in our best interest? What are we doing?" asked Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who called for the Obama administration to confront President Assad over matters including the Scud allegations.
"It's like they just spit right in our face," added Representative Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who listed various Syrian actions he considered harmful to the United States as well as Israel and other U.S. partners (Andrew Quinn, Reuters, April 21).