- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria said yesterday it had been punished by the U.S. Congress because of its long-standing support of the Palestinian resistance against the Israelis.

The state-run SANA news agency gave Syria’s first official reaction to Tuesday’s overwhelming passage of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act by the Senate.

“The Senate voted, as expected, for economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria because of its support for the resistance of the Palestinian people against the Israeli occupation,” SANA said.

The measure, which easily cleared the House last month, is expected to be signed into law by President Bush within weeks.

It charges that Syria has links to militant extremists and is seeking to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

It provides a range of options for punishing Syria, from restricting U.S. exports and business investment to downgrading Washington’s diplomatic representation and imposing travel restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the United States.

The bill also bans the export of “dual-use” technology, allows the U.S. government to freeze Syria’s assets in the United States and restricts overflight rights for Syrian aircraft inside U.S. airspace.

It also calls for Syria to withdraw its 20,000 troops deployed in neighboring Lebanon, which is dominated by Damascus.

Syria’s ruling-party newspaper, Al-Ba’ath, shrugged off the threat facing Damascus.

“Those who want any useful dealings with Syria must understand that only dialogue can bear fruit,” it said.

Syria “has no large foreign debt, and its food security is assured,” Al-Ba’ath added.

Other Arab states, including pro-Western ones, quickly rallied around Syria to denounce the latest U.S. moves and insisted that dialogue was the only way to resolve differences between Washington and Damascus for the sake of regional stability.

Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khodr warned that “such decisions do not help to create the adequate climate to deal with the issues facing the region and to build the necessary confidence for the future of stability.”

In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters that the U.S. legislation “is not useful” and that he expected Mr. Bush to “delay” its implementation.

His comments were echoed by Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who suggested that the U.S. president “could delay application of the law to avoid any escalation or confrontation in the Middle East during this critical period”.

In Beirut, Lebanese President Emile Lahud charged that the U.S. Congress had acted under “pressure from the Zionist lobby” with a vote that “contradicts the efforts deployed to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

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