The House of Representatives will consider a bill to
impose new sanctions on Syria.
The legislation calls for a virtual U.S. embargo on Syria unless it
expels groups deemed as terrorists and withdraws troops from Lebanon. A
similar bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate.
The House bill, called the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty
Restoration Act, was introduced by Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat,
and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen heads
the House International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East.
"Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is defeated, it is time for America to
get serious about Syria," Engel, a member of the International Relations
Committee said. "The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty
Restoration Act is the first step to addressing Syria's destabilizing role
in the Middle East."
Last year, the Bush administration opposed a similar bill, called the
Syrian Accountability Act, arguing that it would harm the campaign against
Iraq. Congressional leaders blocked the bill from being debated on the floor
of the House or Senate.
On Sunday, President George Bush said Syria possesses chemical weapons
and warned that the Assad regime must cooperate with the U.S.-led war
against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Bush made it clear
that Iraq was the focus of his administration.
"We believe there are chemical weapons in Syria," he said. "Each
situation will require a different response. First things first. We're here
in Iraq now."
Engel said the bill is meant to express U.S. opposition to what he
termed "Syria's continued support of the most deadly terrorist organizations
in the world, its development of weapons of mass destruction, and its
occupation of Lebanon." He said the new legislation provides the White House
the power to impose penalties on Syria.
In the Senate, similar legislation will be introduced by Senators
Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania
Republican. The bill was introduced as Hizbullah, the main group harbored by
Syria, intensified attacks on Israel. Over the weekend, Hizbullah fired air
artillery toward Israel three times in a 24-hour period.