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US backs Iraq-Syria border talks


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US backs Iraq-Syria border talks

A joint delegation from the US military and Iraq's interim government is having talks in Damascus on ways to improve security on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

US commanders have said the flow of insurgents across the border represents a major threat.

The bilateral talks are expected to last two days.

Syria will have to show results very quickly in terms of co-operating with a crackdown on Iraqi insurgents, a US government official told the BBC.

A US diplomatic delegation visited Syria earlier this month.

There has been a notably warmer public tone in US-Syrian relations in the last couple of weeks.

No less a figure than US Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week at the United Nations that he hoped Damascus now understands the need to co-operate on the flow of insurgents across the Syrian-Iraqi border.

'Blunt warning'

But the Americans have remained cautious, saying they need to see results.

And that caution is accentuated behind the scenes, at least in some parts of the US government.

One senior official told the BBC that a US delegation that visited Damascus earlier this month had given the Syrians what he described as "a very blunt warning".

The military talks on border co-operation now, he suggested, are one way to test whether Damascus has got the message.

But the official insisted it was not a question just of border controls.

"We are convinced that Iraqi extremists are organising and fundraising inside Syria with the acquiescence of the Syrian government," he said.

"This has to stop," he added, "and we'd like to see some results very quickly."

The focus on this issue now seems to reflect both US concerns over developments in Iraq, with the insurgency apparently gaining momentum, and the fact that Washington may feel it has some real leverage at the moment on Damascus, which currently appears particularly isolated, with new UN pressure over its presence in Lebanon.

The US official said Washington had delivered a tough message on that issue too.


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Syria 'to seal' border with Iraq

The US says Syria has agreed to tighten its border with Iraq to prevent militants from crossing the border.

The move followed two days of talks in Damascus between Syrian and Iraqi officials and US military commanders, US State Department officials said.

There has been no word yet from the Syrian government.

The US has long pressed Damascus to crack down on what it sees as terror groups and to prevent insurgents from moving in and out of Syria.

"A number of understandings have come out of this meeting with respects to commitment with the Iraqi interim government and the coalition and the Syrians to stop illicit activity across the border," US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview with the AFP news agency.

"I think it is a positive step, but what really matters is action and not just an agreement," Mr Powell said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described earlier on Wednesday the two-day Damascus talks as "constructive and positive".

Mr Boucher declined to comment on "the specific details" of the deal.

"But we do have fairly concrete understandings - particularly between the Iraqi government and the Syrian government on thing like communications,.. how they can deploy forces, how they can move together to cut off the border traffic," he said.

The US seems to have achieved its aim of moving on from political promises to specific practical measures Syria has agreed to take, the BBC's State Department correspondent Jill McGivering reports.

This follows directly from an apparent breakthrough last week at a meeting between Mr Powell and the Syrian foreign minister, our correspondent says.

Washington may feel it has some real leverage at the moment on Damascus, which currently appears particularly isolated, with new UN pressure over its presence in Lebanon, analysts say.


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