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Monday, May 9, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Calls from Congress to Obama: Time to get tough with Syria's Assad

WASHINGTON — Congress is urging President Barack Obama to impose harsher U.S. measures on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.


  • Related Story: EU sanctions, like those by U.S. target members of Syria regime but not Assad May 9

  • A letter by two leading House members have called on Obama to expand sanctions on the Assad regime. The proposals included limiting the travel on Syrian diplomats in the United States as well as penalties on any foreign company that helps Syrian missile programs.

    "We believe that it is time that the United States pursues a policy on Syria designed to deny the Assad regime the political, economic and technological resources to engage in activities that pose an extraordinary threat to U.S. security, our interests, and our allies," the letter said.

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    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 opposition.

    "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 and Washington.

    "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 sanctions law.

    "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."

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