(photo credit: AP)
Syria's president has denied in an interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric that his government is allowing terrorists entry into Iraq, claiming a stable and democratic neighbor is in his country's interest.
Bashar Assad's comments conflicted with repeated US accusations that Syria is not doing enough to stem the flow of militants across its border with Iraq.
"If we have chaos in Iraq, this means we work against our interests, so we do our best to control our border; first of all for the Syrians, second for the Iraqis, third for the region," Assad told Couric on Thursday during her visit to the presidential palace in Syria's capital, Damascus.
Assad said he supported the establishment of a stable democratic Iraqi government, but argued the US was failing in this endeavor.
"There's no serious political process supported by the Americans so far," he said. "It's getting worse every day."
US President George W. Bush sent an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq early this year hoping to improve the security situation enough to allow the Shiite-led Iraqi government to reconcile with the country's Sunnis and Kurds. But most experts agree Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made little progress.
The Syrian president reiterated his call for US troops to withdraw from Iraq, but indicated the Iraqi government should decide how and when.
Political pressure has been growing in the US for the Bush administration to begin a withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, but the president has so far held off, preferring to wait for a much-anticipated report expected next week from his military commanders before making a decision.
Assad concluded the interview by saying his desire to see the Americans leave did not mean he wished to see them fail in helping Iraq achieve stability.
If US success "means political stability, we don't have any problem because we support any country in the world, including the United States, in succeeding in Iraq in that regard," said Assad.