Senators Seek More Syrian Sanctions as Chemical-Arms Plan Debated

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Nov. 15, 2013, 6:02 a.m.

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.

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