- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

Syria faces economic sanctions until it expels terrorists and ends its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction under a bill that cleared Congress yesterday.

The House voted 408-8 to approve the bill, the final step before it reaches President Bush. The president is expected to sign the bill, which gives him a broad waiver if he deems the sanctions contrary to national security.

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.

The bill has been boosted by recent reports that Syria knowingly has issued visas to terrorists traveling to fight U.S. forces in Iraq.

“The Syrian regime has the blood of Americans on its hands, and they must be held responsible for the deaths,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.

To end the sanctions, Syria would have to show it has expelled terrorists, withdrawn troops from Lebanon, ended its missile, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, and ceased supporting insurgents in Iraq.

Two Republicans and six Democrats in the House voted against the measure yesterday. The vote was to accept the Senate version of the bill, which passed that chamber last week, 89-4.

The bill that initially passed the House had restricted the president’s waiver authority, preventing him from exempting dual-use technology from the prohibition.

Both senators and House members have said, though, they hope the president will not use the waiver.

Yesterday, lawmakers said the bill sends the right message to Syria.

“This bill is an important step in saying to Syria: ‘Enough is enough. No longer are you going to get away with supporting terrorism. No longer are you going to get away with developing weapons of mass destruction,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor.

The Syrian Embassy in Washington did not return a call for comment, but Syrian President Bashar Assad has said on several occasions that the bill will hurt U.S. interests in Syria more than Syrian interests.

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.

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