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US Raises Prospect of New Iraq-Related Sanctions Against Syria

The Bush administration Wednesday raised the prospect of new sanctions against Syria. U.S. officials say that despite prodding from Washington, the Damascus government has failed to crack down on Iraqis in Syria providing support for the Iraqi insurgency.

Syria has long been subject to some U.S. economic sanctions because of alleged support for terrorism, and the penalties were increased last year under the Syria Accountability Act from Congress.

But the Bush administration is now publicly talking about the prospect of more severe penalties, because of the Damascus government's apparent toleration of pro-insurgency activity by elements of the former Saddam Hussein regime operating from Syria.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that one possible new measure could be action by the U.S. Treasury Department, provided for in the 2003 act of Congress, that would forbid American financial dealings with the Syrian central bank.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said he could not speak for the Treasury Department about possible action it might take.

However, he said every sanction provided for under the Syria Accountability Act remains on the table as a policy tool at the administration's disposal. He said the United States, as recently as last weekend with a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, has told Syrian authorities what they need to do with regard to the former Saddan Hussein associates.

"The visit to Syria was firmly part of that effort, and I think very directly and very emphatically and very strongly addressed the issue of the former regime elements, the activities of former regime elements in Syria, and the need for Syria to take aggressive and proactive action against those elements, to stop those activities consistent with their stated pledge to support Iraq, Iraqi sovereignty, to support Iraqi stability and to support Iraqi security," he said.

Mr. Armitage, who met Sunday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has credited Syria with taking effective action to curb cross-border traffic of Muslim militants seeking to join the insurgency.

But the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said last month the United States has "fairly good information" that senior former officials of the Iraqi Baath party have said up a command structure in Syria.

He said they were operating with impunity, providing direction and financing for the insurgency.

Syrian officials contend the United States has not provided sufficient information for them to act against individuals said to be part of the Iraqi network.

Spokesman Ereli said information provided by the Bush administration has been very clear. While stopping short of accusing Syrian authorities of facilitating the activity of the former regime figures, he said the Damascus government has the "capability, knowledge and assets" to control what is happening on its territory.