WASHINGTON ø President George Bush has imposed what has been termed
symbolic sanctions on Syria.
Bush imposed the minimum amount of sanctions stipulated by the Syrian
Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. The president
authorized the maintenance of the current level of diplomatic relations as
well as energy, aircraft and telecommunications trade with Syria in a move
that would not significantly harm business ties between Damascus and
"It was a long time coming," Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who
cosponsored the legislation, said. "But it is better late than never. To me,
it's only the beginning."
Under the sanctions announced by Bush, the United States will not export
any item on the U.S. Munitions List or on the Commerce Control List, Middle East Newsline reported. The
Munitions List includes weapons, defensive systems and ammunition, while the
Commerce Control List comprises such dual-use items as chemicals,
nuclear technology, propulsion equipment and lasers.
Officials said the sanctions imposed by Bush do not restrict the
movement of Syrian diplomats in the United States. Moreover, the measures do
not reduce diplomatic contacts between Damascus and Washington or threaten
U.S. energy projects in Syria.
Officials acknowledged that most ø if not all ø of this equipment has
long been withheld from Syria under the provisions of being designated a
terrorist sponsor by the State Department. They said that over the last
three years the United States has opposed the export of military and
dual-use equipment by NATO allies to Syria.
At the same time, Bush waived sanctions on other dual-use components as
well as food and medicine, which provide the bulk of the $214 million in
U.S. exports to Damascus. The waiver would allow the export of aircraft
parts and components for flight safety as part of an effort to "promote the
exchange of information," an apparent reference to the U.S.-Syrian dialogue
on Al Qaida.
"It is important to U.S. national security interests that
aviation-related sanctions take into account humanitarian and
diplomatic concerns as well as the international obligations of the United
States," Bush said.
The administration also waived sanctions on the export of
telecommunications equipment and related products. Bush said this would
include unspecified software and technology as well as "certain exports and
reexports of a temporary nature."
The U.S. sanctions does not suspend U.S. energy projects in Syria.
Officials said Chevron, ConocoPhillips and other U.S. companies would be
allowed to continue activities in Syria although they would require non-U.S.
suppliers to service operations. Officials said the sanctions would not halt
U.S. oil imports from Syria, reported at $259 million in 2003.
Bush also banned the landing of any air carrier owned or controlled by
Syria, with the exception of those chartered for official business. Syria
does not fly passenger jets to the United States.
"The president will consider additional sanctions against the government
of Syria if it does not take serious and concrete steps to cease its support
for terrorist groups, terminate its weapons of mass destruction programs,
withdraw its troops from Lebanon, and cooperate fully with the international
community in promoting the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq," a
White House statement said.
The sanctions also prohibited links with Syrians who help Syria's
military or security presence in Lebanon, Syria's weapons of mass
destruction and missile programs and Syria's efforts to undermine the U.S.
military in Iraq. The measure also called for a freeze of the assets of
Syrian nationals involved in these activities.
In a measure required by the Patriot Act, Bush also ordered U.S.
financial institutions to restrict ties with the Commercial Bank of Syria.
Officials said the Syrian bank was believed to have been laundering money
for drug traffickers, Saddam loyalists as well as groups deemed as
Under the sanctions legislation, signed into law by Bush in December
2003, the president was required to ban the export of items on the U.S.
Munitions List and Commerce Control List. Another section of the law
required Bush to choose at least two of six sanctions options.
Bush, who selected two sanctions, dismissed an option to limit the
movement of Syrian diplomats to within a 25-mile radius of their posting in
the United States. He also refused to reduce U.S. diplomatic contacts with
[In an unrelated development, Syrian President Bashar Assad has decided
to retire Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas. Arab diplomatic sources said Tlas,
the longest-serving defense minister in the Arab world, will be replaced by
Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hassan Turkmani. Special Forces commander Gen.
Ali Habib, Turkmani's deputy, was designated as the new chief of staff.]
The administration determined that the Syrian government has provided
safe haven to Hizbullah and Palestinian groups deemed terrorists and
continued to maintain a military presence in Lebanon. Syria was also deemed
as having one
of the most advanced chemical weapons capabilities in the Arab world and
has developed an offensive biological weapons capability.
"In addition, Syria maintains an inventory of Scud and SS-21 short-range
ballistic missiles, and is believed to have chemical warheads available for
a portion of its Scud missile force," the White House statement said.
The statement said Syria has failed to cooperate with the United States
regarding the war in Iraq. The White House said Syria sent military supplies
to the Saddam Hussein regime on the eve of the U.S.-led war in Iraq in March
2003. In all, the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad earned about $3
billion in illicit trade with Iraq in violation of United Nations sanctions.
Syria has taken steps to close its border with Iraq, the statement said,
but Syria remains a "preferred transit point for foreign fighters into
Iraq." Damascus was also said to have refused to return about $200 million
in frozen Iraqi assets to the new interim government in Baghdad.
Officials said the State Department lifted its objections to U.S.
sanctions on Syria in late 2003 after nearly a year of efforts to change
Syrian policy. They said Secretary of State Colin Powell concluded that
Syria would not end its support for groups deemed as
terrorists or cooperate with the United States on Iraq.
"We would still hope that Syria would look at the situation, look at the
region around it, stop supporting terrorist groups and adapt its policies to
be a stable and harmonious member of that region," Boucher said. "That is
something we'll continue to pursue."