The Obama administration has pressed Syria since February to halt the provision of sophisticated ballistic missile technology to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
Nonetheless, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee said there is a "high likelihood" that Hezbollah has the Scuds already. Other U.S. officials said they could not confirm a transfer occurred to Lebanon.
Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said he summoned Syria's ambassador in Washington to his office on Feb. 26 to discuss the transfer of technology to the group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization.
Mr. Feltman said he met with Ambassador Imadh Moustapha "because we were so concerned with the information we had that Syria was passing increasingly sophisticated ballistic weapons to Hezbollah."
That meeting, he said, was followed in March with another meeting with Mr. Moustapha at the National Security Council, as well as yet another parley on March 10 at the State Department with William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs. On Monday, the State Department summoned Mr. Moustapha's deputy, Zouheir Jabbour, for a fourth warning to condemn "the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hizballah."
The Obama administration has declined to comment specifically on the allegation made last week by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Mr. Peres said Syria had provided Hezbollah with Scud missiles, armaments capable of carrying chemical weapons that could reach Jerusalem.
Mr. Feltman Wednesday offered to discuss the allegations, which Syria and Lebanon have denied, in a classified session.
A U.S. counterproliferation official said, "There is serious concern that the Syrians may be considering a transfer, but I can't confirm that a transfer has taken place to Lebanon."
Ahmed Salkini, a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in Washington, said, "These reports are a blatant fabrication and disinformation campaign by Israel aimed at raising the level of tension in the region and creating a pretext for possible offensives in our region."
But other members of Congress have begun to talk about a missile transfer to Hezbollah. On Tuesday, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, told Agence France-Presse, "I believe there is a likelihood that there are Scuds that Hezbollah has in Lebanon. A high likelihood."
Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Syria in the past year has been producing an upgraded version of their Scud missile known as the Scud D.
"There has been a lot of concern about Hezbollah training on these weapons. The problem is once they have that kind of capability, when do they move into Hezbollah possession? We do not know publicly where the Scuds are."
Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, declined to talk about the suspected Scud shipment. But he did say the specific story "obscures the larger issue of Syrian arms shipments to Hezbollah, which has between 42,000 and 60,000 rockets aimed at Israeli civilian population centers."
He added, "This is a flagrant violation of U.N. Resolution 1701 which the United States and other Western powers were instrumental in creating."
The recent reports of the Scud shipment could delay the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to Damascus. The Obama administration nominated Robert Ford, a career diplomat, for the job. If his nomination is approved by the Senate, he would be the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005 when the Bush administration recalled the U.S. ambassador after accusing the Syrian government of ordering the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Harriri.
Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, said at the hearing Wednesday that he would urge his colleagues in the Senate to oppose sending Mr. Ford to Damascus at this time. "This kind of thing smacks of appeasing someone who kicks you in the teeth," Mr. Burton said.
But Mr. Feltman said, now more than ever, the United States should send an ambassador to Syria.
He pointed to his own diplomacy with Syria's ambassador in Washington as an example of why the United States needs an envoy in Syria's capital.
"It reinforces the point that when we have an issue of this urgency, we need to be having access to the leadership in Syria to express our concerns," he said.
In his testimony, Mr. Feltman urged Congress to be patient with President Obama's engagement strategy with Syria.
He said, "The United States and Syria have been substantially at odds over a broad range of issues for some six decades. The decision of our president to draw on the full inventory of diplomatic tools at his disposal does not anticipate instant success, but the initiation of a sustained effort to succeed where we have failed to succeed in the past."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC