The United States on Wednesday invoked sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior officials in his government for human rights abuses.
Administration officials announced the sanctions one day before President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on the recent Middle East uprisings.
President Obama expanded existing sanctions against Syria’s government and blocked top officials’ assets in the United States and its jurisdictions. The president’s executive order also bars U.S. individuals or companies from dealing with those officials.
It is the first time that the U.S. government has targeted President Assad personally with sanctions.
The order charges that numerous elements of the Syrian government have overseen and carried out attacks on protesters, harassed demonstrators and political activists, and repressed democratic change.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that further sanctions would be imminent, if Syrian officials did not stop the violent crackdown.
“The window is narrowing for the Syrian government to shift focus away from repressing its people and towards meeting the legitimate aspirations of its people," said Carney. "And as I said, we are looking at additional measures that we can take, and we continue to enforce the measures already taken.”
Obama’s executive order targets President Assad, Vice President Farouk al-Shara, Prime Minister Adel Safar, the interior and defense ministers, the head of Syria’s military intelligence and the director of the country's political security agency.
Activists in Syria say that at least 700 civilians have been killed since protests against Assad’s rule began two months ago.
Obama imposed a first round of sanctions against Syria last month, aimed at Syria’s intelligence agency and two of Assad’s relatives.