The United States imposed more economic sanctions on Syria on Friday and will announce an additional $5.5 million in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees Saturday officials said. The Treasury Department also announced a new terrorist designation of Hezbollah, in neighboring Lebanon, saying the group is providing “a range of critical support” for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, including “training advice, and logistical and operational” assistance.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to discuss other options Saturday, during emergency meetings in Istanbul with Turkish government leaders and opponents of Assad. The one-day stop in Turkey follows a 10-day diplomatic trip to Africa.
“She certainly will be looking to see whether there is anything else we can do that will have a positive impact rather than a detrimental impact on the overall situation in Syria,” a senior State Department official said Friday.
The U.S. calculus of caution could change, as it did last year in Libya, despite the administration’s current policy that adding arms to the volatile and increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria would only make things worse.
Clinton is looking for a “clear picture of the effectiveness of what we are currently providing and how it can be made more effective, and then whether or not there are additional things we can do,” the official said.
But a combination of skepticism in the United States about the utility of any military move, a lack of international consensus and domestic political worries makes the possibility of any near-term military operation appear remote.
The upcoming U.S. presidential election in November casts the national security decision-making on Syria in a political light. Obama administration officials insist they are neither postponing nor hastening any policy change because of the election, but officials agree that unless Assad falls quickly, the United States is highly unlikely to significantly alter its current course before then.
“I just don’t see it coming that fast, with or without the election,” one senior U.S. official said earlier this week. The official, like others, agreed that the election does complicate the already difficult effort to understand the changing situation in Syria and react to it.
There is a debate within the administration about what to do next, with some advisers arguing that some wider help for the rebels would give the United States greater influence with the government that eventually replaces Assad, and would improve the chances for a democratic outcome.