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Congress & the Middle East: Senate Letter Urging President Obama to Take Tougher Stance Against Syria

(August 3, 2011)

A bipartisan group of 68 senators sent a letter to President Obama urging the administration to take a tougher stance against Syria and to fully enforce the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003.  Initiated by Sens. Barbara Boxer [D-CA] and Jim DeMint [R-SC], the letter called for “a ban on U.S. businesses operating or investing in Syria, restrictions on travel by Syrian diplomats in the United States, and blocking transactions of property in which the Government of Syria has an interest.”

Dear Mr. President:  

We write to urge you to immediately implement additional sanctions on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While we appreciate the measures you have taken to date—including imposing sanctions on President al-Assad, his family, and associates—we believe it is time to significantly increase pressure on the regime. No government should be allowed to inflict such suffering on its people without a harsh rebuke from the United States and from the broader international community.  

Specifically, we request that you implement a number of key sanctions outlined in P.L 108-175, the Syria Accountability & Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003. As required under this law, President George W. Bush implemented two of the available sanctions—a ban on exports to Syria other than food and medicine, and a ban on Syrian aircraft landing in or overflying the United States.  

We are pleased that you have maintained these sanctions, but seek further implementation of the law, including a ban on U.S. businesses operating or investing in Syria, restrictions on travel by Syrian diplomats in the United States, and blocking transactions of property in which the Government of Syria has an interest. We also request that you work swiftly to identify and implement additional sanctions—including on Syria’s banking sector—to send a clear message to the Syrian government that its behavior will not be tolerated. 

In addition, we ask that you engage with our European allies and European energy companies on ceasing the purchase of Syrian oil and investment in Syria’s oil and gas sectors, and that you work to encourage the European Union to sanction the Commercial Bank of Syria, as the United States did in 2004.

We share your stated strong concern that the Syrian government has responded with unconscionable brutality and violence to calls for real political reform. According to available figures, an estimated 1,600 Syrians have lost their lives and thousands more have been injured. In addition, thousands of refugees have fled to Turkey.  

The Syrian people deserve a government that represents their aspirations, and respects their basic human rights. It is clear that President al-Assad is not committed to pursuing the reforms that would meet these goals. As such, the United States and the international community must hold the regime accountable, and pressure them to change course. Implementing additional sanctions would show the Syrian people that we stand with them in their struggle for human rights and a more representative government, while also making it clear to the Syrian regime that it will pay an increasing cost for its outrageous repression.  

Thank you for your continuing concern and we look forward to your response.  


Senator Barbara Boxer

Senator Jim DeMint

Senator Daniel Akaka

Senator Kelly Ayotte

Senator Richard Blumenthal

Senator John Boozman

Senator John Barrasso

Senator Michael Bennet

Senator Roy Blunt

Senator Scott Brown

Senator Richard Burr

Senator Sherrod Brown

Senator Maria Cantwell

Senator Ben Cardin

Senator Saxby Chambliss

Senator Dan Coats

Senator Thad Cochran

Senator Susan Collins

Senator Chris Coons

Senator Mike Crapo

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator Lindsey Graham

Senator Orrin Hatch

Senator Dean Heller

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

Senator James Inhofe

Senator Daniel Inouye

Senator Johnny Isakson

Senator Mike Johanns

Senator Ron Johnson

Senator Tim Johnson

Senator Mark Kirk

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Senator John Cornyn

Senator Herb Kohl

Senator Jon Kyl

Senator Frank Lautenberg

Senator Patty Murray

Senator Ben Nelson

Senator Mike Lee

Senator Jeff Merkley

Senator Lisa Murkowski

Senator Bill Nelson

Senator Robert Menendez

Senator Barbara Mikulski

Senator Rob Portman

Senator Joseph Lieberman

Senator Claire McCaskill

Senator Jerry Moran

Senator Mark Pryor

Senator Joe Manchin

Senator John McCain

Senator James Risch

Senator Jeanne Shaheen

Senator Chuck Schumer

Senator Pat Roberts

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Tom Udall

Senator David Vitter

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Senator Mark Warner

Senator Pat Toomey

Senator Jon Tester

Senator Debbie Stabenow

Senator Olympia Snowe


Senator Roger Wicker

Senator Ron Wyden

Sources: Barbara Boxer