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Middle East

Mitchell seeks sanction waivers for some exports to Syria


Latest update : 2009-07-28

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that the US would waive sanctions on certain exports to Syria. This comes as President Barack Obama attempts to thaw relations with the former US foe.

AFP - US envoy George Mitchell has told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Washington will seek sanctions waivers in order to export aircraft and other equipment to Syria, US officials said Monday.

But the officials said the move -- which comes as President Barack Obama's administration pursues diplomatic engagement with Syria, a former foe -- did not signify any lifting or easing of sanctions imposed on Damascus in 2004.

"Senator Mitchell told President Assad that the US would process all eligible applications for export licenses as quickly as possible," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said as Mitchell continued his regional tour.

Kelly, speaking after the daily briefing, cited in particular "requests to export products related to information technology and telecommunication equipment and parts and components related to the safety of civil aviation."

But Kelly said "there hasn't been any decision to lift the sanctions" imposed under president George W. Bush's administration. "Any changes to US sanctions require close coordination with Congress," he told reporters.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor also said Mitchell told his host that the US government would "process all eligible applications for export licenses to Syria as quickly as possible."

He added that particular attention would be paid to speeding up the process for "those requests to export products related to information technology and telecommunication equipment and parts and components related to the safety of civil aviation."

Obama on May 8 renewed economic sanctions for one year, citing continuing concern over Syria's alleged search for weapons of mass destruction as well as support for militants in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq.

Bush, declaring a national emergency on May 11, 2004, imposed economic sanctions on Syria over charges that it was a state sponsor of terrorism. They were extended in 2006 and then tightened the following year.

Bush again renewed the sanctions for one year in May last year, banning exports of products other than food and medicine and freezing a raft of Syrian assets.

The sanctions followed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of December 2003.

"Even though he doesn't say it explicitly, (Mitchell) is referring to the waivers that are allowed" under Bush's national security waiver provisions, a State Department official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

Aaron David Miller, a past US peace negotiator, said the development is "quite in line with the (Obama) administration's efforts to test the waters incrementally and open some doors."

He said he does not know what the administration is hoping to gain in return for the sanctions waivers.

One possibility, he said, is it might be seeking Syria's help in curbing the anti-Israeli movement Hamas in the Palestinian territories. It could also be part of larger efforts, he added, to wean Syria away from its ally Iran.

Date created : 2009-07-28