By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008
President Bush ordered a new round of financial sanctions against Syria yesterday after concluding that its government is not doing enough to stem the flow of fighters into Iraq.
The executive order broadens the number of Syrian officials whose assets can be blocked by the Treasury Department, officials said. Administration officials said they are still compiling the list of people who will face such sanctions.
The Bush administration has a variety of grievances against the Damascus government, especially what it regards as an effort to undermine Lebanon's government and its support of militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. But in announcing the new sanctions, U.S. officials cited Syria's inattention to shutting down a flow of fighters into Iraq, such as by strengthening visa requirements.
"While the Syrian government has taken some steps against terrorists aimed at ensuring Syria's internal stability, Syria remains the primary route for terrorists crossing into Iraq," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "There are many verifiable actions Syria could take in this regard . . . that would demonstrate a willingness to assist the efforts of the Iraqi government and the international community to stabilize Iraq."
The sanctions also laid bare continuing tense relations between Damascus and Washington. Some in the Middle East had hoped that the climate might improve after Syria sent a delegation to the Annapolis peace conference the Bush administration convened last year.
The United States first imposed sanctions on Syria in 2004, including a ban on all U.S. exports there except for food and medicine and on flights between the two countries. Those sanctions also authorized the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of individuals found to be involved in terrorism and other illegal activities.