Washington, Oct. 9: President George W. Bush cleared the way yesterday for economic sanctions on Syria, as his spokesman offered a blunt warning to Damascus that it was “on the wrong side in the war on terrorism”.
The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, confirmed that the Bush administration has dropped its opposition to economic and diplomatic sanctions that have been stalled in Congress for two years.
He spoke as Damascus demanded that America must move to rein in Israel, following last weekend’s Israeli air strike on an alleged Palestinian training camp deep in Syria.
McClellan told reporters: “Syria needs to change course, change its behaviour, stop harbouring terrorists.”
The administration has held off on approving sanctions while it reached out to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
In May, Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, brushed aside the scepticism of Washington hawks to visit Damascus, securing pledges from Assad that the offices of Islamic terrorist groups would be closed, and that no refuge would be offered to members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The Bush administration has since concluded that Syrian steps were insufficient, and has been angered by a continued stream of militants into Iraq from Syria. After quietly opposing the “Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act” for about two years, the White House now officially takes no position on the legislation, which has broad support in Congress.
The change of policy clears the way for passage of the measure by the Senate and House of Representatives. The House international relations committee approved it yesterday, setting the stage for a full House vote.
The bill calls for Syria to end support for terrorists or terrorist groups, halt development of chemical and biological arms as well as long-range missiles and withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
It would allow Bush to ban US exports to Syria, prohibit American firms from operating there, decease its diplomatic presence there, restrict travel by Syrian diplomats in America, block Syrian airline flights to the country and freeze Syrian assets.
Richard Boucher, the state department spokesman, said Powell made clear in May that “without some significant steps by Syria” new restrictions would be placed on US-Syrian relations.
The administration meanwhile made clear that it is considering giving up on its proposed new UN resolution on Iraq, seeking financial and military support for the US-led reconstruction efforts, after meeting unexpectedly robust opposition at the Security Council.