- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Senate voted yesterday to punish Syria through economic and trade sanctions until Damascus expels terrorist groups, withdraws its troops from Lebanon and ends its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 89-4, gives President Bush broad authority to waive the sanctions if he deems it necessary, but lawmakers said it still sends a message that Syria must switch sides in the war on terror.

“It can continue to harbor and to support groups devoted to terror, or it can act in ways that will help restore stability and peace in the region, and thereby create a better economic future for its people. It cannot do both,” said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The legislation now goes back to the House, which passed a version last month that gave the president less waiver authority. Senators and House aides said they expect the House will adopt the Senate’s version and send it to Mr. Bush for his signature.

The legislation would prevent U.S. firms from selling Syria technology with both civilian and military uses. It also requires that the president impose two other sanctions of his choice from among a list that includes prohibiting trade other than food or medicine, restricting diplomatic contacts, preventing Syrian airlines from entering U.S. airspace and prohibiting U.S. firms from operating in Syria.

“This bill will make clear to Syria what we expect of it. If it is not willing to end its support for terrorism or uphold its agreements, it should not be accepted as a full partner in the international community,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

To lift the sanctions, the president must certify that Syria has expelled terrorists, withdrawn troops from Lebanon, ended its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, and ceased supporting guerrillas in Iraq.

Alternately, the president can waive the sanctions if he deems it in U.S. security interests. The House bill had prohibited him from waiving the dual-use technology ban.

The Syrian Embassy was closed for the Veterans Day holiday yesterday.

On its Web site, the embassy encourages people to write letters opposing the bill and gives eight talking points.

“Syria has positively responded to U.S. concerns regarding developments in Iraq,” the talking points say. “The U.S. administration has asked Syria to play a constructive role in the future of Iraq. The proposed legislation will damage all aspects of cooperation between the U.S. and Syria on the Iraqi issue.”

The talking points also stated that the legislation won’t hurt Syria economically.

U.S. government figures show that trade with Syria is relatively small. Syria imports about $275 million in American goods and exports about $150 million to the United States.

Voting against the bill were Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, and Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent.

The Bush administration had opposed the bill until recently, arguing that it curtailed the executive branch’s ability to conduct foreign policy. When it became apparent the bill would pass, the administration dropped its objection.

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