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US mulls Syria sanctions in wake of deadly clampdown

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-25

The White House said on Monday it was considering sanctions against Syrian officials to exert leverage on Damascus to end the violent suppression of anti-government protests.

REUTERS - The Obama administration is considering sanctions against senior officials in the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to ratchet up pressure for an end to a violent crackdown on protesters, a U.S. official said on Monday.
 
The measures, which could freeze those officials’ assets and ban them from doing business in the United States, would likely come in the form of an executive order signed by U.S.  President Barack Obama.
 
But a final decision has yet to be made on the exact timing of such a move, and there was no word on whether Assad might be among those targeted for sanctions, the administration source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
 

Sanctions would mark a more assertive approach by the Obama administration, which has been criticized by human rights groups for not doing more to curb Assad’s efforts to crush a month-long uprising against his autocratic 11-year rule.

 
Obama’s response so far has been limited to tough words but little action against the Syrian government, in contrast to Washington’s role in a NATO-led air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and its call for his ouster.
 
Washington is mindful of its limited ability to influence Damascus, which is already under a set of U.S. economic sanctions and is closely allied with U.S. foe Iran.
 
The Obama administration is also cautious about the potential for stoking instability on U.S. ally Israel’s borders and wants to avoid further military entanglement in the Muslim world where it is involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Range of "policy options"
 
Despite that, U.S. officials were looking for new pressure points with Assad as his tanks poured into Deraa where a human rights activist said at least 18 people were killed.
 
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was “pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions ... to make clear that this behavior is unacceptable.”
 
But he declined to say whether measures might be imposed against Assad himself, if Syria’s oil industry might be targeted or whether there might be a broader push for U.N. sanctions.
 
Even as he heaped criticism on Syria’s actions, Carney kept a mostly cautious line on Assad’s fate and stopped short of urging him to step down. “It is up to the people of Syria to decide who its leader should be,” he told reporters.
 
Obama, sharpening his tone in a statement on Friday, said Syria’s crackdown “must come to an end now” and accused Damascus of seeking Iranian help to repress its people.
 
Assad lifted a 48-year state of emergency on Thursday but activists say violence the following day, when 100 protesters were killed, showed he was not serious about reform.
 
Questions have been raised whether new U.S. sanctions against Assad and his aides—like the steps taken against Gaddafi and his loyalists—would have much tangible impact.
 
The United States and other Western powers have been trying for two years to woo Assad away from Tehran and encourage the British-trained eye doctor to reach a peace deal with Israel.
 
The Obama administration sent an ambassador back to Damascus this year. Even while maintaining support for Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas militants, Assad has kept Syria’s border with Israel quiet.
 
Western sanctions could push Syria more tightly into Tehran’s embrace and risk further regional instability by stoking sectarian strife.  

Date created : 2011-04-25

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