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U.S. Seems Sure of the Hand of Syria, Hinting at Penalties

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  • Greg Cannon
    for more on this story, try these links http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=7630327
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 15, 2005
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      for more on this story, try these links

      U.S. Seems Sure of the Hand of Syria, Hinting at

      Published: February 15, 2005

      WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 - The Bush administration,
      condemning the assassination of the former prime
      minister, Rafik Hariri, in Lebanon, suggested Monday
      that Syria was to blame and moved to get a new
      condemnation of Syria's domination of Lebanon at the
      United Nations Security Council.

      American and European officials also said the
      administration was studying the possibility of tougher
      sanctions on Syria, effectively tightening penalties
      imposed in May, when Washington said the Syrian
      government had failed to act against militant groups
      in Israel and against a supply line from Syria to the
      insurgents in Iraq.

      "We condemn this brutal attack in the strongest
      possible terms," said Scott McClellan, the White House
      spokesman, adding that the killing was "a terrible
      reminder that the Lebanese people must be able to
      pursue their aspirations and determine their own
      political future free from violence and intimidation
      and free from Syrian occupation."

      American officials said the killing was an ominous
      development on two counts: first, because it raised
      concern that Lebanon could plunge back into the civil
      war that it suffered throughout the 1980's, and
      second, because it underscored growing American
      impatience with the role played by Syria in the Middle

      Mr. McClellan and other administration spokesmen said
      they had no concrete evidence of Syria's involvement
      in the killing of Mr. Hariri, a prominent opposition
      leader and critic of Syria's role in Lebanon, who died
      along with at least 11 others when a car bomb blew up
      next to his motorcade in Beirut.

      And in fact the Syrian foreign minister, Farouk
      al-Sharaa, speaking at a news conference in Damascus,
      also condemned the attack.

      But the target of the American criticism was
      unmistakable, as several officials condemned Syria's
      role in Lebanon as part of their comments on the

      "We're going to turn up the heat on Syria, that's for
      sure," said a senior State Department official. "It's
      been a pretty steady progression of pressure up to
      now, but I think it's going to spike in the wake of
      this event. Even though there's no evidence to link it
      to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed
      Lebanon to become destabilized."

      At the United Nations, the Security Council called for
      a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the bombing, but there
      was some doubt that the Council would vote to condemn
      Syria by name. In a resolution passed last year to
      condemn Syria's role in Lebanon, Syria was not
      specifically mentioned; there was only a reference to
      foreign forces in Lebanon.

      Syria has effectively controlled Lebanon since it
      moved troops into the country in 1976, at the outset
      of the civil war. In 1981 Syria forced the Beirut
      government to sign a treaty declaring that Syria would
      play the dominant role in its foreign policy.

      In the view of American analysts, Syria has in turn
      done the bidding of Iran, using Syrian territory to
      support Hezbollah, a major presence in Lebanon, and
      other Islamic groups that have attacked Israel.

      The United States has focused mounting attention on
      Iran in recent weeks, both because of its suspected
      nuclear arms program and because of its support of
      groups trying to disrupt a peaceful resolution of the
      Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

      A Western diplomat said the United States, in
      condemning Syria's possible role in the Beirut attack,
      may also be trying to rebuke Iran, signaling that
      American tolerance of such behavior was diminishing.
      On the other hand, there are few sanctions available
      that the United States has not already imposed on

      Western diplomats have sometimes suggested that Syria
      is "low-hanging fruit" in the campaign against
      terrorists: a nation that could be punished by further
      isolation and sanctions because its economy is in poor
      shape. Iran, by contrast, is awash in oil revenues,
      and the difficulties of mounting an international
      campaign against it are becoming increasingly obvious
      as Europeans call for engagement with Iran rather than

      Some in the Bush administration have argued for the
      last two years that Syria's role has not always been
      destructive. In particular, some at the State
      Department and the Central Intelligence Agency have
      credited Syria with cracking down on some anti-Western
      militant groups and also with trying at least partly
      to stop the flow of arms and financing to insurgents
      in Iraq.

      That more benign view of Syria has lost favor,
      however, administration officials say. Earlier this
      year, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage
      traveled to Syria and gave what a senior official said
      Monday was a very stern warning to do more to stop the
      Iraq insurgency and aid to militant anti-Israel

      "He went with a pretty tough message, because pressure
      is building in the administration to do something,"
      said the official. "We've seen some cooperation on the
      border with the Iraqis and some repatriation of some
      of the Iraqi money. But there's not been nearly enough
      action to make us satisfied."

      Last May President Bush barred virtually all American
      exports to Syria, except for food and medicine, and
      barred flights between Syria and the United States,
      except for emergencies. The Treasury Department also
      moved to freeze assets of Syrians with ties to
      terrorists, lethal weapons or the Lebanon occupation.

      But those actions were described even in the
      administration as symbolic. Critics of Syria in
      Congress, including Representative Ileana
      Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who sponsored a
      Congressional act calling for punishment of Syria,
      want a ban on exports or American investments in

      Administration officials have raised the pressure on
      Syria since President Bush's Inaugural Address and the
      Congressional testimony of Secretary of State
      Condoleezza Rice during her confirmation hearings,
      when she called Syria one of several "outposts of
      tyranny" in the world.

      Warren Hoge contributed reporting from the United
      Nations for this article, and Richard W. Stevenson
      from Washington.
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