Two U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives are backing new legislation aimed at stepping up political and economic pressure on Syria.
As tens of thousands of people took part in a pro-Syrian demonstration in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, the two representatives announced the effort aimed at helping to bring about Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, and ratcheting up pressure on Damascus in other areas.
Called the Lebanon and Syria Liberation Act, the bill would impose U.S. sanctions on countries or companies that provide material or technological support to what it calls Syrian efforts to acquire or develop weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missiles.
This would include both import and export sanctions, as well as possible suspension of U.S. foreign assistance to the countries involved.
Congressman Eliot Engel co-sponsored the Syria Accountability Act approved by Congress in 2003, on which the new bill would expand. "The Syria Accountability Act slapped U.S. sanctions on Syria for the first time," he said. "This act takes it one step further and slaps sanctions on third countries who may deal with Syria. We think it is very important that there be an international boycott of Syria if Syria doesn't change its act and improve its behavior and this is the first step in that direction."
Both Mr. Engel and chief co-sponsor Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen note that their bill does not call for regime change in Damascus.
However, its purpose is specifically stated as establishing a program to support a transition to a democratically elected government in Syria, in addition to restoring sovereignty and democratic rule in Lebanon.
The bill calls for the United States to provide aid to pro-democracy and human rights groups in Syria and Lebanon, and urges radio and television broadcasts directed at both in support of building democracy and civil society.
Third country or third party sanctions would remain in effect until the Assad government in Damascus complies with both the Syria Accountability Act and the new law, if it is approved, and with United Nations Security Council resolutions on Syria's occupation of Lebanon.
"If Syria withdraws from Lebanon we think that is a very important first step, in letting the Lebanese people decide their own future. We are not trying to tell the Lebanese people what their future should be, they have to decide it, but they should be able to decide it without the yoke of Syrian terror remaining in their country and Syrian troops remaining in their country preventing them from exercising their own democratic freedoms," said Cong. Engel.
The legislation also calls on the United States to oppose Syrian bids for U.N. leadership posts, as well as international loans to Syria, and to support a resolution criticizing what it calls Syria's systematic violations of human rights at home and in Lebanon.
Announcement of the legislation came as President Bush issued new calls for Syria to pull out of Lebanon and end its support for terrorism.
While he says the White House has not reacted to the new legislation, Congressman Engel predicts there will be ample support on Capitol Hill for it, and that the legislation would help President Bush accomplish his objectives regarding Syria and Lebanon.