"President Asad gave an assurance that Iraqi cash deposited in Syria is secure and that he is ready to return it to the Iraqi authorities," Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, a member of Iraq's transitional Governing Council, told a news conference on Thursday after talks with the Syrian leader and Vice-President Abd al-Halim Khaddam. 

"Asad stated that he wanted to hand over the money to the Iraqi authorities and not to the (American) occupation forces," said Rubaie, who arrived in Damascus on Wednesday night. 

He said he would ask the Governing Council to send the appropriate ministers to Damascus to take charge of the money. 

Ten days ago, Asad said Syria held Iraqi funds totalling $200
million. He then linked their return to repayment to Syria of Iraqi debts run up by the Saddam regime. 

Border control

Rubaie also said he had raised with Assad the question of the border between the two neighbours. "Better control of the frontier between Syria and Iraq is an extremely important question," he said. 

The United States has criticised Syria, saying it allowed
anti-coalition forces to cross the border.
The visiting Council member said he "understood Syria's concern on any possible division of Iraq. 

"We explained to Asad and Khaddam that we would like a federal and united democratic republic," in Iraq, said Rubaie. 

The Syrians, who oppose the setting up of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, had been told that "the unity of Iraq was sacred and that division of Iraq was inconceivable," he added.