The letter, dated May 5, was signed by House Foreign Affairs Committee
chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep.
Eliot Engel, Middle East Newsline reported. The letter said Obama, despite the revolt in Syria, has failed
to enforce previous sanctions on the Assad regime.
On April 29, Obama ordered sanctions on Assad's relatives and Syria's
intelligence agency. But Obama, in a move that angered some in Congress,
spared Assad himself from penalties.
On May 6, the European Union imposed sanctions on 14 members of the
Syrian regime but left out Assad. The Syrian opposition said Assad's forces
have already killed 800 civilians in the regime's crackdown on the
"We'll continue to assess the situation moving forward," State
Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "If sanctions can be useful, we'll
look at that."
The letter called on the administration to ban all Americans from
conducting business in Syria. Another proposal was that Syrian diplomats
could not travel 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, outside their bases in New York
"We ask that you build on your recent actions by further strengthening
U.S. sanctions against the Syrian regime and its enablers," the letter said.
In 2003, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and Engel were co-authors of the Syria
Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, legislation meant
to block all military or dual-use equipment to Damascus. The House
chairwoman said Obama as well as his predecessors often ignored the
"Tough U.S. sanctions laws targeting Syria are on the books, but they
have not been fully enforced by successive administrations," Ms.
Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, said. "But we also must not forget that
through its alliance with Iran, support for extremist groups, and illegal
unconventional weapons programs, Syria threatens vital U.S. security
interests and those of our allies."
For his part, Engel said Syria continued to host what he termed the
"world's worst terrorist groups." The New York Democrat also said the Assad
regime was developing weapons of mass destruction even while killing more
than 500 protesters.
"Syria has one of the largest ballistic missile inventories in the
Middle East, and reports indicate that Syria has conducted research and
development on biological and chemical weapons for
decades," the letter said. "Additionally, we urge the implementation of the
full range of Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act sanctions on
any foreign entity that knowingly transfers to Syria goods, services, or
technology that materially contribute to Syria's efforts to develop nuclear,
biological, or chemical weapons, or ballistic or cruise missile systems."