The State Department, in what has been called a change
of policy, has decided to support the imposition of additional U.S.
sanctions on Syria.
The State Department has relayed its approval for legislation by
Congress that would impose a virtual trade embargo on Syria. The
department's approval was expected to pave the way for quick passage of the
Syria Accountability Act, passed by the House and now being considered by
Syria has ignored numerous U.S. appeals for Iraqi cooperation as well as an
end to support for groups deemed by the State Department as terrorists, Middle East Newsline reported.
"We face some real problems in Syrian behavior that we cannot afford to
ignore," Assistant Secretary of State William Burns said. "Action on the
Syria Accountability Act certainly makes clear the depth of congressional
concern on these issues and the consequences of inaction by Syria."
On Thursday, Burns relayed the department's endorsement for Syrian
sanctions in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Burns said.
"We continue to hope for changes in Syrian behavior and we will continue
to work hard to achieve them," Burns said. "But hope alone is not a reliable
basis for policy, and the administration has recognized that the relevance
of Syrian behavior right now will cause real problems for our interests as
they have for years. And it was against that backdrop that the White House
took the decision that we would not oppose passage of the Syria
In July, the State Department expressed opposition to the Syria
Accountability Act. At the time, officials maintained that fresh sanctions
on the regime of President Bashar Assad would be counterproductive in such
areas as Arab-Israeli peace efforts, Iraqi stabilization and the war against
Al Qaida. Currently, the United States bans the sale of military equipment
and most advanced dual-use technology to and military aid for Damascus.
In his testimony, Burns stressed that the United States hopes to
reconcile with Syria. He said Damascus has cooperated in the U.S. search for
former Iraqi regime assets in Syrian banks and the improvement of security
along the Iraqi border. The assistant secretary also said Damascus has
provided the United States with unspecified cooperation regarding Al Qadia.
"Syria has offered valuable cooperation against Al Qaida," Burns said.
"That is in both our interests, and we welcome it. That does not outweigh
Syria's continued support for other terror groups. Groups such as Hamas and
Palestinian Islamic Jihad continue to operate out of Syria, directing and
supporting attacks on innocent civilians in Israel and the occupied
Despite support for the legislation, Burns did not guarantee that
President George Bush would sign the Syria Accountability Act . The State
Department official did not offer hope that U.S. sanctions would change
Syrian policy and instead suggested that the Bush administration decided to
support the legislation after the failure of more than two years of
"I'm not sure there was an all-of-a-sudden decision [to support the
Syria Accountability Act] as much as it is an accumulation of efforts on our
part that didn't produce, haven't yet produced, all the results we want to
see," Burns said.