WASHINGTON ø The State Department has pledged to review a new U.S.
law to determine whether additional sanctions should be imposed on Syria.
The pledge came as members of the U.S. Congress are pressing the Bush
administration to implement the Syria Accountability Act. The legislation,
signed into law by President George Bush in December 2003, calls for a
virtual trade embargo on Damascus.
"You have given us options within the act," Secretary of State Colin
Powell said. "And we're in the process of examining those options now to see
how to use the tools that you've given us."
Officials said the department's review would be submitted to the White
House. The administration must decide by May whether the United States
should impose new sanctions on Damascus under the Syrian Accountability Act.
In testimony to the House International Relations Committee on
Wednesday, Powell was careful not to suggest that the administration would
recommend additional sanctions. Under the law, the president has the
authority to waiver sanctions on grounds of national security.
Powell said the department's review would be ready within the next few
weeks. He did not elaborate.
Officials said the review includes the following questions: Do Islamic
insurgency groups deemed as terrorists still operate in Damascus; are Syrian
troops deployed in Lebanon; does Syria maintain support for Hizbullah; has
Syria helped the United States in the war against Al Qaida and the war
against Saddam Hussein, and has Syria reduced the scope of its weapons of
mass destruction programs? At the same time, they said, Washington has
pressed the European Union to deny Syria trade benefits until Damascus
pledges to abandon WMD.
The Syria Accountability Act calls for additional sanctions on trade as
well as restrictions on the movement of Syrian diplomats in the United
States. The law said the new sanctions would be maintained until Syria ends
its support for groups deemed by the State Department as terrorists,
withdraws its troops from Lebanon and ends Syria's weapons of mass
Earlier, administration and congressional sources said the prospect of
Bush approving significant sanctions on Syria appears low. They said the
State Department has urged Washington to maintain current relations with
Syria to ensure support for the U.S. effort to reconstruct Iraq, fight Al
Qaida and maintain Middle East stability.
On Wednesday, several members of the House International Relations
subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia proposed a resolution that
expressed the "grave concern of Congress regarding the continuing gross
violations of human rights and civil liberties of the Syrian people by the
government of the Syrian Arab Republic." The resolution urges the Bush
administration to support Syrian dissidents and human rights activists and
press for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.