- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

In the wake of Monday’s bombing in downtown Beirut which killed billionaire Lebanese businessman and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, suspicion is focused on Syria, which has occupied Lebanon since 1976, and had repeatedly clashed with Mr. Hariri. The most immediate impact of the crime has been to isolate Syria, which has at least 15,000 troops in Lebanon.

Following the Hariri murder, Washington recalled U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey from Syria for consultations; before departing, she delivered a message to the Syrian regime expressing this country’s “profound outrage over this heinous act of terrorism.” A crowd estimated at nearly 100,000 Lebanese, many of them chanting and carrying banners demanding an end to the Syrian occupation, yesterday attended Mr. Hariri’s funeral in Beirut.

Washington is rightly demanding that Syria withdraw from Lebanon. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blames the Ba’athist dictatorship’s occupation for the “destabilization” of that country.

The murder and its aftermath have created a new opportunity for U.S.-French cooperation in putting pressure on Syria. President Jacques Chirac, a personal friend of Mr. Hariri, is demanding an international investigation of the crime. Last year, Washington and Paris teamed up to push through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, a measure urging that foreign troops leave Lebanon ” all of which Syria has blithely ignored. We urge Mr. Chirac to work with Washington to step up pressure on Syria in the Security Council.

Unfortunately, however, the European Union has been working to undermine economic sanctions against Damascus. The International Herald Tribune reported Friday that last week the EU sent the director general of its foreign-aid program to Damascus, where he promised more economic cooperation with Syria. “Syria is already an active partner in our ring of friends,” EU Director General Koos Richelle told European economic officials gathered there.

While the EU woos Syria, Damascus continues to actively work to damage American foreign-policy interests in other ways. The Treasury Department, for example, has said that Syrian persons and financial institutions are involved in financing Abu Musab Zarqawi’s terror network. And Gen. George Casey, the commander of American forces in Iraq, has stated that Iraqi Ba’athists have set up a regional command operating out of Syria which helps direct and finance the Iraqi insurgency targeting U.S. forces. In addition, through its support of Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups, Syria continues actively working to sabotage any Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

Over the past year, Washington has steadily sought to ratchet up pressure on Syria. In his State of the Union speech, President Bush denounced Syria as a supporter of terrorism, noting that it “still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region.” He said that Washington plans to begin implementing the Syria Accountability Act — comprehensive U.S. sanctions against Damascus passed by Congress and signed into law by Mr. Bush last year. The SAA bans U.S. flights to Syria, and prohibits all U.S. exports to that country except food and and medicine. Now, it is also time for the EU to stop undermining sanctions against Syria. If economic pressure fails, more forceful action will be necessary to change Damascus’s behavior.

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