U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Syria

(May 11, 2004)

"Despite many months of diplomatic efforts to convince the Government of Syria to change its behavior, Syria has not taken significant, concrete steps to address the full range of U.S. concerns," President Bush said in a message to Congress announcing that he would impose sanctions on Syria as called for by the Syrian Accountability Act. Bush also accused Syria of "supporting terrorism, continuing its occupation of Lebanon, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining United States and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq."

The sanctions include banning U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine, prohibiting Syrian aircraft from flying to and from the United States, freezing certain Syrian assets and cutting off relations with a Syrian bank because of money laundering concerns.

The Bush administration had delayed implementing the Act, which was approved five months earlier by huge margins in the House and the Senate, for fear of exacerbating tensions in the Middle East. But, facing a deadline next month for choosing from a menu of sanctions, the president finally acted.

The practical effect of the new sanctions is mostly symbolic. Diplomatic relations will not be cut, no Syrian flights fly to the United States, and Bush said in his message to Congress that he will waive the sanctions for products such as telecommunications equipment and aircraft parts, in addition to the exemptions for food and medicine. Bush justified the continued sale of telecommunications equipment — such as cellular phones — as an effort "to promote the free flow of information." The permitted products constitute a large portion of the $200 million in exports from the United States to Syria. Syrian exports to the United States totaled nearly $260 million last year, much of it fuel oil and other petroleum products.

"The Syrian government must understand that its conduct alone will determine the duration of the sanctions, and the extent to which additional sanctions may be imposed should the Syrian government fail to adopt a more constructive approach to relations with its neighbors, weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism," Bush said.

In 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Damascus and warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that Congress might force the administration's hand if Syria did not take demonstrative steps to act against terrorism and thwart insurgents crossing the Syrian border to fight U.S. troops in Iraq. Assad told Powell he would close the Damascus offices of extremist Palestinian groups, but U.S. officials said the groups still plot attacks on Israel from Syria.

Source: Washington Post, (May 12, 2004)