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Friday, May 20, 2011     GET REAL

Congress skeptical administration will enforce sanctions on Syria

WASHINGTON — Congress appears doubtful over U.S. sanctions on Syria.


Leading members of Congress have questioned whether U.S. sanctions on the regime of President Bashar Assad would stop the bloody crackdown on the opposition. They said President Barack Obama could decide not to implement the sanctions on Assad and his key aides.

"I hope that the Executive Branch will go further by fully implementing existing sanctions laws on the Syrian regime, supporting new congressional efforts targeting the regime in Damascus, and immediately recalling our U.S. ambassador in Syria," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.

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Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and other House leaders have questioned the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions on Iran and Syria. In recent hearings, the lawmakers asserted that most of the sanctions were never implemented.

On May 17, the Treasury Department designated an Iranian state-owned bank for sanctions. Iran's Bank of Industry and Mine was accused of helping Iran's "proliferation activities" as well as helping banks that were supporting nuclear and missile programs.

"Iran has a well-established practice of migrating illicit financial activities from one bank to another to facilitate transactions for sanctioned banks," Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said.

Earlier this month, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Eliot Engel sent a letter to Obama that urged the president to implement sanctions on Syria. The House members said the administration has ignored penalties in the Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, passed in 2003.

"To address the totality of the Syrian threat, I will soon introduce bipartisan legislation that would strengthen and increase sanctions to deny the Syrian regime the resources to threaten its own people, the U.S., and our allies," Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said on May 18. "As it has done against Syria's Assad and his cadre, the administration should immediately target Iran's Khamenei and Ahmadinejad for sanctions."

In the Senate, members called on the European Union to join Washington in sanctions on Assad. They said the Assad regime has "lost legitimacy."

"We urge our European allies and other partners around the world to work now with the United States in targeting Bashar Assad with similar measures," a statement by Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio said on May 18.

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