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US Lawmakers Again Call for Sanctions Against Syria - 2003-04-11

U.S. lawmakers are sending a strong message to Syria that it should stop what is described as support for terrorism. A bipartisan group in the House of Representatives has re-introduced legislation to impose sanctions on Syria, citing recent reports of Syrian involvement in Iraq.

Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives say it is time the government in Damascus receives a clear message that its support of terrorism needs to come to an end.

New York Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, key sponsor of the legislation, says Syria should not see it as a "declaration of war" but a clear signal to embark on a new path.

"We can have normal diplomatic relations with them, if they act like a decent nation. But if they continue to do the things we talked about, support terrorism, occupy Lebanon, and develop weapons of mass destruction, it's time to get tough with them," he said.

Mr. Engel is also skeptical about Bush administration statements that Syria has been more helpful in the war on terror since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The legislation's co-sponsor Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen say Syria's record of support for terrorist groups, such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon and radical Palestinian groups, confirmed in the latest CIA report to Congress, overshadows positive developments.

"Of the seven state sponsors of terrorism on the U.S. list, only Syria rivals Iran in its unabashed support for terrorism," she said.

Now re-named the "Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act," the legislation calls on the president to impose a range of sanctions if Syria does not end support for international terrorism, withdraw all personnel from Lebanon, and end development and deployment of ballistic missiles and chemical or biological weapons.

Among possible sanctions: downgrading of diplomatic relations, prohibiting Syrian commercial aircraft from landing in the United States, and restricting travel by Syrian government officials to certain areas.

Efforts to pass similar legislation in the House last year failed in the face of opposition from the Bush administration and State Department who said Syria's help was needed in the war on terror.

Congressman Engel says he hopes this does not happen again, citing recent comments critical of Syria by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others about Syrian help to former officials of the Saddam Hussein regime.

A similar bill is to be introduced in coming weeks in the Senate, co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer and Rick Santorum.

Mr. Engel was also asked about a recent statement by Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, on the need to bring Syria and Iran into a dialogue on the future of Iraq.

The congressman says any dialogue with Syria should be aimed at getting Damascus to "end its errant ways." As for any talk of U.S. military action against Syria, he says this would be "putting the cart before the horse."