US senators seek clampdown on Syria's Assad

As 137 protesters killed at start of Ramadan, administration reaches out to Syrian dissidents; critics say US still not doing enough.

capitol 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
capitol 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A bipartisan group of US senators announced Tuesday that they were filing new legislation to stiffen sanctions against Syria as the regime of Bashar Assad killed 137 opposition protesters at the start of Ramadan.
The new sanctions, to be sponsored by senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) would call on the president to block access to the US financial system, as well as to markets and federal contracts for businesses investing in Syria’s energy sector or purchasing oil or selling gasoline there.
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“The United States should impose crippling sanctions in response to the murder of civilians by troops under the orders of Syrian President Assad,” Kirk said in a statement announcing the new bill. “The Arab Spring will sweep away this dictatorship, hopefully with the help of American sanctions similar to those leveled against the Iranian regime.”
The senators’ move came as the Obama administration reached out to the Syrian opposition, meeting for the first time since the uprising began months ago with dissidents.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting Tuesday with the US-based Syrian activists was held in order “to discuss the urgent situation in Syria,” a State Department spokesman said in response to questions from reporters.
At the same time, US President Barack Obama hosted the American ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, who recently angered the Syrian regime for visiting areas where it has cracked down on protesters.
The White House put out a statement following the meeting – a rare release following a presidential consultation with an American envoy – thanking Ford for his “extraordinary service” and also reiterating Obama’s “strong condemnation of the Syrian regime’s outrageous use of violence against its own people.” The statement also reaffirmed “America’s support for the courageous Syrian people, and their demands for universal rights and a democratic transition.”
On Monday, both the White House and the State Department put out statements condemning the fresh violence, using some of the toughest language to date and pledging to do more to increase pressure on the regime.
“I am appalled by the Syrian government’s use of violence and brutality against its own people,” Obama said. “Once again, President Assad has shown that he is completely incapable and unwilling to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people.”
The US president said the Syrian leader had put himself “on the wrong side of history and his people, by using torture, corruption and terror.
“Through his own actions, Bashar Assad is ensuring that he and his regime will be left in the past, and that the courageous Syrian people who have demonstrated in the streets will determine its future, Obama continued. “Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward.”
Although the US has ratcheted up its rhetoric against Assad and outreach to dissidents, many observers of Syrian policy continue to question the administration’s stance and criticize it for not doing enough.
Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute issued a blistering critique Tuesday of the omissions of the Obama administration.
“It’s past time to pull the ambassador, call on Assad to step down, begin finding ways to support the Syrian opposition, further isolate regime forces, cordon off Syria from the rest of the world, and begin the process of standing for freedom,” she wrote. “If not for the Syrian people, let’s do it for ourselves. Syria is Iran’s most important ally and force-multiplier in the world today; the loss of Assad would be a crippling blow to the Islamic Republic.”
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East