Members of the U.S. Congress have expressed concern that President
George Bush will waive proposed sanctions against Syria.
House and Senate members have raised the prospect that the White House
would either reduce mandated sanctions against Syria or waive them entirely
in a review by the administration. Under the Syrian Accountability Act, Bush
must report to Congress on whether Syria has violated the terms of the new
In February, two key Republican senators urged the administration
not to waive sanctions under the law. In a Feb. 18 letter to Secretary of
State Colin Powell, Senators Rick Santorum and Barbara Boxer said a waiver
of the sanctions would send the wrong signal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and
the "terrorists who find safe haven within Syria's borders."
"As you know, at the request of the administration, our bill was
modified prior to passage in order to give the president maximum flexibility
in waiving sanctions for reasons of U.S. national security," the letter
"While we supported this change, we hope the waiver authority is used
judiciously and sparingly. Should the president use his authority to broadly
waive the sanctions called for in the law, it would send the wrong signal to
President Assad and the terrorists who find safe-haven within Syria's
House members have also expressed concern that Powell would recommend
that sanctions be waived. But House Republicans, however, said they could
not envision that Bush would ignore the law at a time when leading members
his administration have failed to report any progress in U.S. relations with
"I am confident that President Bush will stand firm in his commitment to
hold accountable anyone who houses a terrorist or encourages terrorism,"
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House subcommittee on the Middle
East and South Asia, said.
Some congressional members said the key issue is whether the White House
will approve the harsh sanctions contained in the Syrian Accountability Act.
They include a virtual U.S. trade embargo on Syria and the restriction of
the movement of Syrian diplomats in the United States.
Elliot Abrams, director of the Near East desk of the National Security
Council, was said to have argued for an array of tough sanctions against
Syria. But the State Department has disagreed and wants lighter penalties.
"The State Department and Department of Defense are talking in different
languages," former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, which
advises the Pentagon, said. "For instance, while the Department of Defense
is displaying a harsh reaction against Syria and Iran, the Secretary of
State pays official visit to Syria. Now, it's time to reveal what in fact
the foreign policy of the U.S. government is."