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White House Raises No Objection To Syria Sanctions Bill - 2003-10-09


The Bush administration, which has been taking an increasingly tough line against Syria in recent weeks, said Wednesday it does not object to the move in Congress to impose sanctions against Damascus for its alleged support for terrorism. The comment followed approval of the sanctions bill by the House International Relations Committee.

The White House has traditionally opposed punitive sanctions legislation that would "tie the President's hands" in foreign policy.

And the Bush administration had been working quietly behind-the-scenes for the last two years against the Syrian sanctions measure, which could ban U.S. exports to Syria and force the downgrading of diplomatic relations with Damascus.

However administration officials say they passed word to Congressional leaders in the past few days that the White House no longer opposes the measure, the "Syria Accountability Act."

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. efforts to persuade Syria to break links with terrorists have yielded little or nothing, and that officials in Damascus had been warned that the long-stalled sanctions bill might begin moving through Congress:

"We had told the Syrians that this type of move was likely, that we expected to see it. And frankly, the Syrians have done so little with regard to terrorism that we don't have a lot to work with. There's nothing, there's no particular reason or fact that we can go back to Congress with and say this is a bad idea," Mr. Boucher said.

On a visit to Damascus in May, Secretary of State Colin Powell asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to shut down operations in that country of Palestinian radical factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

But despite Syrian promises of cooperation, U.S. officials say subsequent actions against the groups were only cosmetic.

Mr. Boucher said the activities of the groups go far beyond the information offices claimed by Syria, and he said the site in western Syria attacked by Israeli aircraft Sunday was a "terrorist training camp" that was in active use until the bombing.

The Bush administration has also been critical of Syria for supporting Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and what it says is an active effort by Syria to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

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