US extends Syria sanctions by a year

White House: Penalties to target "certain persons" who continually try to destabilize Lebanon.

mitchell assad 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
mitchell assad 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Despite diplomatic overtures by the United States towards Syria, which most recently saw US Mideast envoy George Mitchell meet Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, US President Barack Obama has decided to extend sanctions against the country for another year. In a press release issued by the White House on Friday, Obama explained that the sanctions targeted the property of "certain persons undermining the sovereignty of Lebanon," its "democratic processes," and its "institutions." The aim of these unnamed people, the statement went on, was "to contribute to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through politically motivated violence and intimidation; to reassert Syrian control or contribute to Syrian interference in Lebanon, or to infringe upon or undermine Lebanese sovereignty and contribute to political and economic instability" in the country. The renewed sanctions go into effect on August 1. In his statement, the US president acknowledged recent attempts to engage the Syrians in dialogue, and seemed to suggest that talks between the two countries would continue irrespective of the sanctions. "Despite some positive developments in the past year, including the establishment of diplomatic relations and an exchange of ambassadors between Syria and Lebanon, [the sanctions] must continue in effect beyond August 1, 2009," he said. The current sanctions were first imposed under former US president George Bush in 2007. During the Bush administration, tensions between Syria and the United States reached a boiling point, with America at one point naming Syria a part of the "Axis of Evil," which also included North Korea and Iran. Under Obama's leadership, Washington has tried to thaw relations. It is believed that the US hopes Damascus will play a critical role in the success of a regional peace plan over the coming years.