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US to Begin Implementing Law Calling for Sanctions Against Syria - 2004-03-10

A U.S. official says the Bush administration will soon implement provisions of the Syria Accountability Act. The law was passed by Congress to provide sanctions in response to what the measure says is Syria's refusal to give up weapons of mass destruction and end support for terrorist groups. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns made the announcement at a hearing on before the U.S. Congress.

The Syria Accountability Act was overwhelmingly approved by the House and Senate last year, and signed into law by President Bush this past December.

However, its key congressional sponsors have since complained about what they called the administration's slowness in implementing the law's provisions.

But this week, the administration let Republican and Democratic lawmakers know implementation is imminent, and could come as early as this week.

During a hearing Wednesday before the House International Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary Burns made that official while responding to questions from Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel.

"We have seen no positive change from Syria at all and I'm wondering if you could shed some light on when the administration will begin implementing it? There have been all kinds of rumors and reports, in the next week or two, I wonder if you could comment on that?" he asked.

Mr. Burns said in replay that "I think you will see the implementation very shortly and I think it will be a very firm implementation of the Syria Accountability Act and the intent behind it."

Mr. Engel had asked whether there were any indications the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had changed its policies in the weeks since Libya's renunciation of weapons of mass destruction programs.

Calling Syrian government public reaction "dismissive and negative," Mr. Burns said it will take time before the full impact of the Libyan action is seen.

"The lesson for countries elsewhere in the region and around the world is that the steps the Libyan leadership have taken are ones that we hold them to, and that they truly do produce more security, more and opportunities for Libyans, that they move away from a waste of resources on WMD programs and the insecurity that they produce, then hopefully it is going to have an impact on people over time," he said. "Each regime is going to make its own judgments and the calculus is going to be different. I don't think there is a kind of cookie cutter approach, but I think over time our hope at least is that the impact of the Libyan decision and what it produces for Libyans is going to have a positive impact on the calculations of other regimes."

Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat who recently met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli, says Libya's decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction should be heard clearly by Syria and what he called other "rogue states".

"I hope in particular that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad observe the Libyan example closely," he said. "Syria should follow that example in divesting itself of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, cutting all ties to terrorism and by withdrawing totally from Lebanon. Syria too has the opportunity of establishing constructive ties with the United States, although that opportunity will not last forever."

The Syria Accountability Act provides for a range of sanctions: including a prohibition on U.S. exports and investment in Syria, freezing of Syrian government assets in the United States, and reducing diplomatic contacts.

In addition to ending production or procurement of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, and permanently closing terrorist group offices in Damascus, the law calls on Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon.

Not all members of Congress are enthusiastic about the Syria sanctions law being implemented.

Senator Richard Lugar, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the White House should weigh the value of what will be accomplished if it goes ahead.

Another Republican, Senator Pat Roberts who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said doing so could hurt opportunities for Syria to follow the Libyan example.