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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
Syria seeks UN-backed arms ban
Chemical bombs
Chemical as well as nuclear arms will be included in the ban
Syria has introduced a draft United Nations resolution to rid the Middle East of any nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Syria - the only Arab nation on the Security Council - urged the US to back the resolution which it said was intended to promote peace and stability in the Middle East.

Correspondents say that the proposed resolution is aimed at focusing attention on Israel, which is believed to have a nuclear capability, and to push the US, Israel's closest ally, into acknowledging this.

After a closed Security Council meeting, US Ambassador John Negroponte repeated that his country was concerned about "Syria's own weapons of mass destruction".

The resolution - backed by most Arab countries - is to be considered on Thursday by experts from member nations of the Security Council before being put to the vote.

Weapons-free zones

Syria's draft text seeks a central role for the Council in countering the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the region.

Finding his father's capacity to duck and weave successfully to avoid being crushed is his [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] major challenge in the weeks ahead
Gerald Butt, Middle East analyst

It calls on all the countries in the Middle East to ratify a series of arms control treaties, including the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Israel has signed the convention but never ratified it, while Syria has neither signed nor ratified it.

Syria's UN Ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe, said Syria would ratify it if all other governments in the region did so.

"It is in the interest of the US forces in Iraq that the Middle East be free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa said.

He added that this would make it difficult for terrorists to get their hands on such weapons.

There are currently five nuclear-free zones in the world, and only one WMD-free zone - this includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

US accusations

Analysts say the Syrian draft has little chances of being passed by the Council.

33 states in Latin America and the Caribbean
13 countries in the South Pacific
10 states in the South-East Asian area
45 nations in Africa (awaiting ratification)

Mr Negroponte said any country could propose a resolution for consideration, but that did not mean the US was prepared to adopt it.

The developments follow United States allegations that Syria has chemical weapons, prompting fears that it may be next in line for military action.

Washington has also accused Damascus of harbouring members of Saddam Hussein's regime after the invasion of Iraq.

On Wednesday, US officials said they believed a senior member of Iraq's intelligence service Farouq Hijazi had flown to Syria the previous day from Tunisia, where he held the post of Iraqi ambassador.

He is believed to have been director of external operations for Iraqi intelligence in the early 1990s, at the time of an alleged Iraqi plot to assassinate President George W Bush's father, when he was himself president, during a visit to Kuwait.

Syria denies the allegations.

Mr Wehbe said it was "very clear to everybody" that the US accusations aimed to shift attention from the US-led invasion of Iraq and "the Israeli killing of the Palestinian people".

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