WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld charged Wednesday that Syria's behavior is "harmful" to US efforts to stabilize Iraq and establish a democracy.
Rumsfeld's comments came in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, only a day after the State Department recalled its ambassador to Damascus for consultations in the wake of the assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Syria has vehemently denied suggestions that it was responsible for Hariri's killing in a car bombing Tuesday.
"They're harmful to what we're trying to do," Rumsfeld said of the Syrians.
"They're holding Iraqi assets and refuse to release them. They have harbored Baathists in their country. They are occupying Lebanon. They are facilitating, with Iran, the Hezbollah into Lebanon and Israel," he said.
During the US invasion of Iraq, he said, Syria allowed busloads of jihadists into Iraq to try to defeat US forces.
"And they've been unhelpful," Rumsfeld said. "They're not a country that is cooperating and it's harmful to what we're trying to do."
Rumsfeld said President George W. Bush and successive secretaries of state have tried to persuade Damascus to "behave in a way that was consistent with other civilized nations."
"And they, thus far, have been unwilling to do it," he said.