A bipartisan group of senators is pushing to impose new sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its supporters, just as the international community assesses how to rid his forces of chemical weapons that they allegedly turned on citizens in the ongoing civil war.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) announced on Thursday that they were joining with Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in filing the Syria Sanctions Enhancement Act of 2013. The stand-alone bill, they said in a statement, would "update existing sanctions to reflect the reality that the Syrian regime continues its persistent war crimes."
“The Syria Sanctions Enhancement Act looks at all the perpetrators of horrific violence who empower these terrorists and creates sanctions against them," Blumenthal said. "Anyone who helps Assad and the Syrian regime develop weapons of mass destruction or provides them with conventional weapons is responsible for the majority of killings in Syria."
The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control since 2004 has had a Syria sanctions program -- which was created and expanded upon through presidential executive orders -- in part to thwart the country's support of terrorism and pursuit of WMD and missile programs.
The four senators' proposed legislation would codify the exiting sanctions program and build upon it. Their bill would target Syria's relationship with Russia by ending transactions between the U.S. and financial institutions -- in Russia and elsewhere -- that support the Assad government. The measure also would ban any entities that provide arms to the Syrian regime from having procurement contracts with the U.S. government. The Pentagon already has decided to stop buying Russian helicopters for Afghanistan's air force from Russian state-owned exporter Rosoboronexport, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
International condemnation of Assad has increased since a massive Aug. 21 chemical-gas attack in a Damascus suburb, which his embattled regime is widely believed to have perpetrated. Under pressure from both the United States and Syrian ally Russia, the Assad government in September agreed to eliminate its roughly 1,300 metric tons of sarin nerve agent and mustard gas.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' Executive Council adjourned a meeting at its headquarters on Friday without making a decision on accepting a chemical-weapons destruction plan crafted by Assad, according to Reuters.
The Hague-based organization opted to wait for an expected announcement later on Friday from Albania about whether it would host the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons on its soil. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said he will decide whether to heed the controversial request by the United States to destroy the poisonous arms. Protesters have flocked to the Albanian capital for days to denounce the prospect.