Threats to Lebanon Risk Fiscal Stress

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 3, 2007

President Bush authorized the Treasury Department yesterday to freeze the financial assets of anyone undermining the fragile government of Lebanon -- the latest White House move to raise pressure on Syria and its Lebanese allies.

Lebanon has been plagued by instability and violence recently, and its pro-Western government is being challenged by opposition parties linked to Syria, whose troops occupied Lebanon until spring 2005.

In signing the executive order for Lebanon, the president is employing a pressure tactic he has previously employed with some success against other countries, including Iran. Instead of targeting just a government, as sanctions have traditionally operated, the United States is now targeting individuals and companies as a way of bringing pressure on recalcitrant governments.

The White House said the latest order will freeze the property of those individuals found "to have taken, or to pose a significant risk of taking, actions, including acts of violence, that have the purpose or effect of undermining Lebanon's democratic processes or institutions or contributing to the breakdown of the rule of law in Lebanon, supporting the reassertion of Syrian control or contributing to Syrian interference in Lebanon, or infringing upon or undermining Lebanese sovereignty."

The individuals named will have their assets frozen in U.S. financial institutions, and U.S. companies will not be permitted to do business with them. Foreign financial institutions have at times followed suit on such orders, though they are not legally bound to do so.

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the Treasury Department will draw up a list of people who will be affected by the order. In June, the president barred entry to the United States of anyone working to undermine the Lebanese government.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, said the United States has felt "stuck" in making progress in Lebanon. "This is one more thing they can do to up the ante," she said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company