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Wednesday, June 16, 2010     GET REAL

Obama rebuffs congressional concerns, sends tech trade mission to Syria

WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama continues to promote advanced technology to Syria.


Officials said the State Department has sponsored a trade mission to Syria that included leading U.S. technology firms. They said representatives from Cisco Systems, Dell, Microsoft and Symantec took part in the mission.

"This has never been done before with a country of this nature," a senior official said.

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The official told the Wall Street Journal that the State Department was promoting diplomatic and trade cooperation with Syria. The delegation, which included senior diplomats and was led by Alec Ross, was scheduled to depart Syria on June 17.

On June 15, the U.S. delegation, which included at least two State Department officials, met Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the talks focused on the prospect of relaying U.S. information technology to Syria.

The administration approved the delegation despite criticism by key members of Congress on Syria's growing alliance with Iran. In a report in April 2010, the State Department acknowledged that U.S. engagement with the regime of President Bashar Assad has not resulted in greater openness by Syria.

In 2009, Obama approved Internet technology and aerospace exports to Syria as part of a policy to woo the Assad regime away from Iran. Syrian opposition groups have assessed that the technology was being used by Damascus to monitor dissidents.

"Apparently, some in the U.S. State Department, still to this day, remain committed to pursuing Assad to peel him away from Iran," Farid Ghadry, head of the opposition Reform Party of Syria, said.

In May 2010, the administration expressed concern over Syrian missile transfers to Hizbullah. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the alleged missile transfers would not stop plans to send an ambassador to Syria.

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