The Bush administration charges Syria is not cooperating fully in the war on terrorism, and believes Damascus is seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction. The administration's tough stand appears to be adding momentum to proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress that would impose a range of sanctions on Syria. During a recent appearance on Capitol Hill, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said the Bush administration is concerned that Syria has continued ties to terrorist groups, while maintaining efforts to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
"There is no graver threat to our country today than states that both sponsor terrorism and possess or aspire to possess weapons of mass destruction [WMD]," said Mr. Bolton. "Syria, which offers physical sanctuary and political protection to groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and whose terrorist operations have killed hundreds of innocent people, including Americans, falls into this category of states of potential dual threat."
During the war with Iraq, Pentagon officials accused Syria of providing Saddam Hussein's government with military support, such as night vision goggles.
Pentagon officials say there is also concern that Islamic extremists are slipping across the Syrian border into Iraq to attack coalition soldiers and efforts to bring peace and stability to Iraq.
Mark Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco and a senior White House advisor for Middle East policy, is currently a consultant to U.S. television networks as well as the Arab satellite TV channel Al Jazeerah.
He argues that while Syria may have made some positive overtures, such as reportedly providing intelligence on the al-Qaida terrorist organization, Damascus is still engaged in numerous activities that run counter to American interests.
"On the one hand, Syria claims to desire warmer ties with Washington, but on most occasions, it seems to act contrary to those words," said Ambassador Ginsberg. "Its alliance with Iran, its vocal and at times surreptitious opposition to American efforts to stabilize Iraq, its support for Palestinian terrorist groups and the ability of these groups to operationally plan attacks against Israel, [and from the government in Damascus] its weapons of mass destruction programs. The list seems to be growing by the day, and that should concern us."
Undersecretary of State Bolton says the Bush administration is concerned, even anxious, about the potential for Syria to transfer dangerous weapons to terrorists.
"While there is currently no information indicating that the Syrian government has transferred WMD to terrorist organizations, or would permit such groups to acquire them, Syria's ties to numerous terrorist groups underlie the reasons for our continued anxiety," said Mr. Bolton.
The U.S. Congress is currently considering the Syria Accountability Act.
If the legislation passes, it would impose a wide range of sanctions on Damascus, if the government does not stop its alleged support of terrorist groups and withdraw its soldiers from neighboring Lebanon.
Robert Rabil is a Middle East specialist and author of the recently released book "Embattled Neighbors: Syria, Israel and Lebanon."
He says passage of the Syria Accountability Act will put much needed pressure on Damascus.
"We have to be consistent, pressure, for example, pressure dealing with some issues," commented Mr. Rabil. "For example, the Syria Accountability Act deals with a few issues which really are good. Don't support terrorism, don't go with nuclear weapons or chemical weapons, and get out of Lebanon."
The Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa has rejected accusations that his country is allowing militants into Iraq, although he says the country does not have full control over its long, porous border.
Syria has repeatedly denied it supports terrorist groups or possesses weapons of mass destruction.
Damascus says it keeps thousands of soldiers in Lebanon to help maintain calm after that country's civil war.
So far, the Bush administration has not taken a public position on the Syria Accountability Act.
With a majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Congress supporting the bill, sponsors say they are optimistic the legislation could pass soon.