- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WASHINGTON — The United States slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces.

The White House announced the sanctions Wednesday, a day before President Barack Obama was to deliver a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world with prominent mentions of Syria.

The Obama administration had pinned hopes on Assad, seen until recent months as a pragmatist and potential reformer who could buck Iranian influence and help broker an eventual Arab peace deal with Israel.