- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

President Bush yesterday imposed strict economic sanctions on Syria, stepping up pressure on a dictatorship that is already on the shortlist of states considered prime supporters of terrorists.

The measures ban all U.S. exports to Syria other than materials needed “for specific emergencies” and prohibit any Syrian aircraft from taking off or landing in the United States.

The presidential directive also freezes the assets of Syrian nationals “involved in terrorism, [weapons of mass destruction], the occupation of Lebanon, and terrorist activities in Iraq.”

The Commercial Bank of Syria also will be banned from transactions with U.S. banks.

In the directive, Mr. Bush wrote that the sanctions are necessary because of Damascus’ support of terrorism, the continuing occupation of Lebanon, Syria’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, and its role in exporting fighters to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and co-author of the Syria Accountability Act, said the sanctions will send “a loud and clear message to the leaders of Syria that we will no longer turn a blind eye to their transgressions.”

“Terrorists are entering Iraq through Syria to kill American soldiers, thousands of Syrian troops are still occupying Lebanon, the Syrian arsenal of [weapons of mass destruction] is expanding, and Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups continue to operate in Damascus,” Mr. Engel said. “The ball is now in Damascus’ court.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who helped write the bill, said the full implementation of the sanctions that are overwhelmingly approved by Congress “marks a significant, landmark change in U.S. policy toward Syria.”

“For decades, the Syrian regime has enjoyed relatively normal relations with the U.S., yet it has repeatedly scoffed at the U.S. requests to cease its support for terrorism,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said, accusing Syria of supporting attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.

“This cannot and will not be tolerated,” she said.

The sanctions go beyond measures laid out in the Syrian Accountability Act, which Mr. Bush signed in December, all but eliminating the $300 million in annual trade between the United States and Syria.

The president was required to choose two sanctions from a list of six. Mr. Bush declined to select the harshest sanction, which would have barred all U.S. firms from commerce with Syria.

Among the few items other than emergency medical supplies and food that are permitted to Syria are airplane parts to keep civilian aircraft safe and communications equipment to allow its citizens to have contact with the outside world — and pro-American news.

The White House announced the sanctions yesterday afternoon without additional comment, one of the president’s few public acts in the war on terrorism that lacked fanfare.

A Democratic spokesman said yesterday that supporters of the bill in Congress were irked that “it took so long” for Mr. Bush to impose the sanctions.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry agreed, saying Mr. Bush “had previously acknowledged that Syria has failed to adequately police its border with Iraq, may be developing weapons of mass destruction and provides support to terrorist groups.”

“Given all these troubling facts, it is unfortunate that President Bush failed to impose sanctions until now,” the Massachusetts senator said.

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