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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Tensions on the Rise Between U.S., Syria

Aired April 19, 2003 - 06:11   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's cross the border now to Syria, where tensions are high between Washington and Damascus.
CNN's Sheila MacVicar joins us live now from Damascus with the very latest there. Good morning to you, Sheila.

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. Well you could almost have heard the sigh of relief here in Damascus when it was announced that Colin Powell would at some point soon be paying a visit here. Now there has yet been no date announced for that. And there is now a suggestion that rather than sometime next week as the Syrians had hoped, the visit may now not take place until much later, perhaps even the beginning of May, which of course raises the question for the Syrians as how the United States, which has been putting a lot of pressure on the government here, intends to keep up that pressure until the Secretary of State arrives here.

There is -- was clearly a sense that if the Secretary of State was coming here, there would be a return to, shall we say, more traditional diplomatic discussion. The Secretary had promised what he called a vigorous debate, which sounded like it would still be conducted at fairly high volume.

There at least was the prospect that they could back to discussing things in private, in a more reasoned perhaps way, without so many messages coming from so many different figures in the administration.

So the Syrians not yet certain when this visit will take place, but very much believing that this visit holds the key the way forward to better dialogue, shall we say, between themselves and the U.S. administration -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Sheila, can you talk to us at all about -- we've been hearing an awful lot about some of the very wanted members of the Ba'ath Party or special Republican Guard that have been found now, and other questions about those that may have escaped into Syria. Can you talk to us at all about border control, and in fact that issue is being addressed?

MACVICAR: Well, the question of the border actually seems to be pretty straightforward. The Syrians say that border is sealed. It is a very long border. There are desert tracks across it, which no authority controls.

It is known that U.S. forces have been manning checkpoints on the roads leading out of Iraq on the Iraqi side of the border. So there would seem to be some fairly reasonable control. And I know just anecdotally from hearing stories from various other people, a plane load of Iraqi Canadians arrived in Damascus the other day, hoping to go back to Baghdad to celebrate the Easter festivities with their families there, were turned away by the Syrians who said no Iraqis.

However, it is clear in spite of the denials, that Syrian authorities, at least one and possibly two key Iraqi figures, wanted by the U.S. administration, have come into Syria.

Now earlier this week, Heidi, you may recall we were talking a lot about Farouk Hijazi, the former Iraqi ambassador to Tunis, who is suspected by the U.S. of involvement in the early '90s assassination plot to kill then President George H. Bush. The question -- it does appear that Mr. Hijazi is here and the Americans have some very good intelligence showing them that he is here -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, very good. Sheila MacVicar from Damascus this morning. Thank you.

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