Costa Rica braces for reaction to U.S. attack in Mideast

As the United States edges closer to military action in the Middle East, Costa Rican exporters and the tourism industry face indirect negative reactions.

In a worse-case scenario, a surprise counter attack by Syria or Iran in the continental United States would freeze the flow of tourists and goods for an indefinite periods.

That is what happened Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Hundreds of tourists were stranded in Costa Rica for five or six days, and there were no incoming tourists from the United States or Canada because the planes were not flying.

Airline flights at Juan Santamaría did not resume until Sept. 16. The economic impact here was devastating.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday there is no doubt that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out last week’s chemical attack in Damascus, and must be held accountable. The remarks came as President Barack Obama continues to assess options for a response with key allies.

Although the United States has not released its intelligence summaries that put the blame on Syria, there is no doubt that someone dropped chemical weapons on four Damascus suburbs last week, killing hundreds, including entire families in their homes.

Syria and Iran have threaten to attack Israel if the United States or another western country launches an attack against Syria to punish it for the chemical attack.

Halef al-Muftah, a member of the Syrian Ba’ath national council, and until recently the Syrian propaganda minister’s aide, said that Israel would come under fire if Syria was attacked by the United States, according to sources in Israel. The threats from Damascus explicitly echoed ones made by Iran. Hossein Sheikholeslam, the director of the Iranian parliament’s international affairs committee, said that Israel would be the first victim of an attack on Syria and that Damascus would attack Israel with severity, the Israeli source reported.

An attack against Israel, one of the closest allies of the United States, would mushroom the conflict. There is no guarantee that Iran has not already constructed nuclear weapons. And some Russian suitcase bombs have been missing since the Berlin Wall came down.

Some U.S. lawmakers are calling on President Obama to seek congressional approval before authorizing any military strikes in Syria.

Although White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president is consulting with House and Senate leaders, he did not say whether Obama will seek authorization from Congress for prospective military actions. Congress is in recess.

Carney said a report from the intelligence community about the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus will be released later this week. He said a careful review of the facts supports the conclusion that the Assad regime was behind the attack, and that a response is in the interests of the U.S. and the world. Chemical warfare is outlawed by international treaty.

The Syrian government denies launching chemical attacks and has blamed rebels fighting to oust Assad.

The Arab League meeting in Cairo is blaming the Assad government for the attack and is demanding that those responsible be put on trial.

British Prime Minister David Cameron instructed parliament to return from its summer recess Thursday. He said any action would be a response to the use of chemical weapons and not intended to draw Western powers further into the Syrian conflict.

French President Francois Hollande says his country is ready to punish those who made the vile decision to gas innocent people. He also promised France will increase its military support to the main Syrian opposition group.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a forceful response if Syria makes any attempt to attack Israel.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denounced the Syrian government’s alleged chemical weapon attacks near Damascus as a crime against humanity and said it must not go unanswered.

Obama has not made public the nature of the U.S. response. Observers think that there will be an aircraft or missile attack on Syrians military and governmental installations.

Obama continues to consult with his national security team. He, Biden and others in the administration have been making telephone calls to world leaders.

The United States is Costa Rica’s largest market, and exports are mainly perishables. The old saying is that when the United States sneezes, Costa Rica catches a cold. That shows how tightly the economies are woven.

In addition, there has been an effort by Iran to place soldiers and intelligence agents in Central and South America. The extent of this presence is unknown, although Nicaragua has close relations with that Mideast country.

China’s state news agency, Xinhua, cautioned against a rush to military action. In a Tuesday commentary, it said the world should remember that the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq followed U.S. allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons were never found.

Russia, a key Syrian ally, also is warning against Western intervention in Syria. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin Tuesday accused Western powers of behaving in the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade.

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