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Powell piles pressure on Syria

By David Morgan

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged Syria to abandon its support for "terrorist groups" and the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In a speech to a powerful U.S. Jewish lobby group on Sunday, Powell also said the United States would demand "more responsible behaviour" from what Washington considers other potentially troublesome states, including Iran.

"Syria ... now faces a critical choice," Powell said only two days after the Pentagon aired accusations that military supplies were entering Iraq from Syria.

"Syria can continue direct support for terrorist groups and the dying regime of Saddam Hussein, or it can embark on a different and more hopeful course," he said.

"Either way, Syria has the responsibility for its choices and for the consequences."

Powell told a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that the United States was monitoring "states that do not follow acceptable patterns of behaviour" as part of the war on terrorism it launched after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"It is now time for the international community to stand up and insist that Iran end its support for terrorism," said Powell, a former Army general who chaired the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War.

"Tehran must stop pursuing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them."

Both Iran and Syria, the U.N. Security Council's only Arab member, came under fire from Washington on Friday for their involvement in Iraq.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the United States would hold the Syrian government accountable for reported shipments of materiel including night vision goggles to Iraq, calling them "hostile acts."

Rumsfeld also claimed that armed Iraqi Shiite Muslim forces supported by Iran were inside Iraq and warned that they would be considered combatants if they interfered with U.S. or British forces in the country.

Syria and Iran both dismissed Rumsfeld's warnings. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said Washington was trying to divert attention from "war crimes" committed against Iraqi civilians.

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