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US Puts Financial Sanctions on Key Syrian Officials

The United States Thursday moved to freeze financial assets of Syria's interior minister and its military intelligence chief for Lebanon. Administration officials said the action is aimed at prodding Damascus to end its intelligence role in Lebanon, and tighten its border with Iraq.

The Bush administration is singling out two major figures in Syria's once-predominant role in Lebanon for sanctions in a further show of U.S. displeasure with the Damascus government.

The penalties are being applied against Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, who served as that country's intelligence chief in Lebanon for nearly 20 years.

The other Syrian official is Rustum Ghazali, a protégé of Mr. Kanaan who succeeded him in the post of military intelligence chief for Lebanon in 2002.

The action freezes any assets the two Syrians may have in the United States, and prohibits private Americans from engaging in transactions with them.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the sanctions are being imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department in a ratcheting-up of penalties against Syria under a 2003 act of Congress.

"This is an action that was taken under the Syria Accountability Act. And as you know implementation of the act is an on-going matter. This action was taken by the Department of Treasury. They have responsibility for this aspect of the implementation of the act. It was a decision that they arrived at in identifying these individuals and then announcing this action."

The Syria Accountability Act gave President Bush broad authority to impose sanctions against Syria because of its alleged support for terrorism and interference in U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq.

In an initial round of sanctions in May of last year, Mr. Bush, among other things, banned U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine, and barred Syrian commercial aircraft from flying to and from the United States.

In a written statement, Treasury Secretary John Snow said the new penalties are intended to financially isolate what he termed "bad actors" supporting Syrian efforts to de-stabilize its neighbors.

The Treasury Department said that, in addition to running Syria's military and security presence in Lebanon, both Mr. Kanaan and Mr. Ghazali reportedly benefited from corrupt business deals during their tenures there.

A senior State Department official who spoke on terms of anonymity said the latest action is aimed foremost at prompting Syria to abide by its obligations under last year's U.N. Security Council resolution 1559.

That measure required Syria to end its 29-year security presence in Lebanon. Syria withdrew its last troops from Lebanon in April, but U.S. officials say Damascus still has intelligence agents there in defiance of the U.N. measure.

The senior official said the United States also continues to press Syria to halt the transit of foreign fighters across its border into Iraq, and to stop support for so-called "rejectionist" Palestinian factions opposing peace efforts with Israel.

The official did not rule out further punitive steps, saying the Bush administration is constantly reviewing its policy options and the facts with regard to Syrian behavior.