President Bush will impose strict sanctions soon against Syria, which his administration charges is facilitating the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq and helping supply them with arms.
A senior White House official said yesterday that the sanctions would come this week, possibly as early as today.
The sanctions are expected to ban exports to Syria of American products other than food and medicine. The Bush administration is also expected to ban Syrian aircraft from flying into the United States and curb investments by U.S. energy firms in Syria, White House sources said.
Other possible sanctions include downgrading U.S. relations with Syria, already on the State Department's list of terror-sponsoring nations for its support of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah; imposing travel restrictions on Syrian diplomats; and freezing Syria's assets in the United States.
Asked why the administration has decided to impose the sanctions on Syria, a White House source said: "They leave us no choice."
Congress in November passed the Syria Accountability Act, which bars the nation from trading in items that could be used in weapons programs until the administration certifies, Syria is not supporting terrorist groups and withdraws personnel from Lebanon. The law, which Mr. Bush signed in December, also authorizes the president to impose other sanctions.
Mr. Bush said last week that United States could order the sanctions "because [Syrians] will not fight terror, and they won't join us in fighting terror."
In an interview with the Cairo-based newspaper Al-Ahram International, he said, "The bill enables me to do so. And we've talked to the Syrian leader very clearly ... these are reasonable requests -- and thus far, [Syrian President Bashar Assad] hasn't heeded them."
"And that's why, if I make the decision to put on sanctions, it will be because he hasn't been a full partner in the war against terror," Mr. Bush said. "People need to understand that there needs to be a full commitment."
The Washington Times reported last month that Syria is "facilitating" the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq, according to U.S. military officials with access to intelligence reports.
Foreign fighters from Syria have become a major stumbling block to stabilizing Iraq and turning over sovereignty by June 30. The bloody fighting in Fallujah, for example, is inspired, in part, by well-armed foreign jihadists who crossed the 600-mile Syrian border with Iraq and have committed some of the most gruesome attacks against Americans and their allies.
Officials said Syrian help includes facilitating such border crossing, arming fighters and allowing them to return for fresh supplies.
While the Bush administration recently eased sanctions on Libya, which abandoned its nuclear-weapons program, the White House said yesterday that sanctions are necessary to encourage Syria to toe the line.
"We do have serious concerns when it comes to Syria's behavior. We want to see Syria change their behavior," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said there will be a "unanimous Arab decision" to condemn any sanctions in a final resolution from a meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers under way in Cairo.
He said U.S. accusations that his country is not cooperating in the fight against terror are unfounded.