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U.S. to hit Syria with sanctions

President empowered by new Syria accountability law

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration will soon impose tough sanctions against Syria, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The sanctions fall under the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, passed by Congress in November and signed by President Bush in December to punish the Damascus government.

Washington maintains that Syria sponsors terrorism, is developing unconventional weapons, and has failed to stop anti-American fighters from crossing into Iraq. The United States also accuses Syria of occupying Lebanon.

"I think you'll see the implementation very shortly, and I think it will be a very firm implementation of the Syrian Accountability Act and the intent behind it," Assistant Secretary of State William Burns told the House International Relations Committee Wednesday.

Syria was placed on a list of state sponsors of terrorism when the list was created in in 1979.

The United States imposed additional administrative sanctions against Syria in 1986, citing evidence of direct Syrian involvement in an attempt to blow up an Israeli airplane.

The new legislation bans trade in so-called "dual-use" items to Syria that could be used for weapons programs.

In addition, it requires Bush to choose from a list of other diplomatic and economic sanctions, including restricting U.S. travel by Syrian diplomats, reducing the U.S. diplomatic presence in Syria, prohibiting U.S. investment in Syria and banning U.S. exports other than medicine and food.

A U.S. official told CNN the president is expected to impose economic sanctions against Syria but will likely not impose diplomatic penalties. A decision should be made this week, the official said.

The official said the sanctions are expected to include the ban on U.S. exports, but restrictions on exports of aviation and communications equipment are likely to be waived.

The United States will allow export of aviation equipment to Syria "to avoid Syrian planes from falling from the sky," the official said.

In addition, Washington will not object to the export of communications equipment related to Internet and cell phone use -- "to allow for the free flow of ideas."

"We don't want to have the Syrian people get their news in a vacuum," the official said.

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