- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Senate yesterday voted 89-4 to approve the Syria Accountability Act, which gives President Bush the authority to impose tough sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, so long as Syria supports terrorists and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The bill that passed the Senate is very similar to the version that passed the House last month by a vote of 398-4. But in response to administration complaints that the House version imposes too many restrictions on the president’s ability to conduct foreign affairs, the Senate measure softens the House bill in a number of areas.

Under the House bill, the president was required to prohibit the export to Syria of any military or dual-use item and was not permitted to waive that sanction under any circumstance. The Senate adopted an amendment introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Sens. Rick Santorum and Barbara Boxer, which would give the president the authority to waive the sanctions if he determines that it is in the national security interest of the United States.

Also, the House bill requires the president to impose at least two sanctions against Syria from a list of six: barring the export of products other than food or medicine; prohibiting Syrian aircraft from flying over the United States; restricting travel by Syrian diplomats; reducing diplomatic contact with Syria; barring U.S. businesses from investing in Syria; and blocking transactions in any property in which the government of Syria has any interest. The Lugar-Santorum-Boxer measure grants the president expanded waiver authority on those issues.

Whatever the precise language emerging from conference, Mr. Bush is widely expected to sign the legislation into law — and that’s a good thing, given Syria’s continuing destructive role in the Middle East. In recent months, this has been manifesting itself in two major ways: 1) permitting foreign terrorists to cross the border into Iraq in order to attack U.S. and other coalition forces there; and 2) supporting Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups in their efforts to sabotage the U.S.-backed road map for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Over the past few months, the senior U.S. official in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, has repeatedly demanded that Syria do more to prevent foreign radicals from crossing the border. Also, despite repeated efforts by Secretary of State Colin Powell to persuade Mr. Assad to close the border, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns said two weeks ago, “Syria continues to be a preferred route for those seeking to undermine coalition efforts to establish stability and a peaceful transition to democracy in Iraq.” Last month, after the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group based in Damascus, staged a suicide bombing in Israel, Washington defended an Israeli retaliatory strike against a terrorist training camp in Syria.

The absence of any concerted campaign against the Syria Accountability Act reflects the reality of a strong, bipartisan consensus in Washington that opposes Syria’s efforts to sabotage the rebuilding of Iraq and the Arab-Israeli peace process.

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