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Thursday, August 4, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

U.S. senators seek 'crippling sanctions' like Iran's on Syria

WASHINGTON — The Senate is mobilizing to intensify U.S. sanctions on Syria.


The Senate is considering proposals for Washington to treat Syria like Iran in regard to international sanctions. Legislation submitted by three senators called for a gasoline embargo on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, said to have killed nearly 2,000 civilians since March.

"The United States should impose crippling sanctions in response to the murder of civilians by troops under the orders of President Assad," Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, said.

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Kirk has been joined by Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in the bill that would target foreign companies that invest in Syria's energy sector. Despite two sets of sanctions, the administration of President Barack Obama continues to allow U.S. energy contractors to operate in Syria.

The administration has pledged additional sanctions on the Assad regime. But despite international pressure neither Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has demanded the ouster of Assad.

"We really need to see President Obama addressing the courage of the Syrian people," Mohammad Al Abdullah, a Syrian opposition member who met Ms. Clinton, said. "We want to hear it loudly and clearly that Assad has to step down."

Officials said a key obstacle has been the refusal of such countries as China and Russia to allow a condemnation of Syria in the United Nations Security Council. Still, on Aug. 3, the Council issued a condemnation of Syria amid the army's assault on Hama in which about 150 people were killed.

"We do plan to move forward with additional sanctions under existing authorities, and we're exploring the scope of those sanctions," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "Our goal here is to isolate Assad both politically and deny it revenue. We're working with Congress, certainly, but in the meantime we are looking at additional steps we can take to increasingly isolate Assad."

Under the Senate bill, companies that invest in Syria's energy sector would be banned from bidding for contracts by the U.S. government. Syria's energy sector has been deemed the leading earner of hard currency.

"The legislation we are introducing today will target the Syrian regime's economic dependence on the energy sector, dramatically ratcheting up pressure against the dictatorship in Damascus and in support of a democratic transition that reflects the will of the Syrian people," Lieberman said on Aug. 2.

U.S. ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford envisioned the eventual departure of Assad. Ford said Washington must begin to examine ways to help the Syrian opposition as well as any post-Assad government.

"Assad and his circle will not endure forever, but it is not entirely clear who or what will follow," Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "An additional focus of my work on the ground, which I do not advertise widely, is getting to know the leading activists and assessing their needs and opportunities for the United States to help."

"They are independent," the ambassador said. "They do not want American military involvement, but it does offer us opportunities to promote respect for our principles and ideals, and to eventually reinforce stability and peace in the Middle East. We have a real opportunity with change in Syria to see both Iranian influence and Hizbullah influence in the region diminish."

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