Bush imposes sweeping sanctions on Syria

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The Independent US

The United States has imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Syria, banning almost all exports to the country in response for Syria's alleged pursuit of chemical and biological weapons and its support for terrorism.

The United States has imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Syria, banning almost all exports to the country in response for Syria's alleged pursuit of chemical and biological weapons and its support for terrorism.

Signing the executive order imposing the measure last night, President George Bush said that Syria's weapons of mass destruction programmes and its undermining of Washington's Iraq policy made it "extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and the economy of the United States."

The sanctions cover all US exports with the exception of food, medicine, commercial jet spare parts and communication equipment that would help keep Damascus in touch with the outside world. With US-Syrian trade running at only $300m (£170m) a year, the sanctions make little practical difference. But they are a signal that for all his problems in Iraq and elsewhere, the President will not relent in the "war against terrorism".

The measures also include a ban on flights between Syria and the US, authority for the US Treasury to freeze the assets of Syrian nationals and entities involved in terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the occupation of Lebanon. There will also be curbs on ties between the US banking system and Syria's national bank.

Despite some assistance from Syria in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the US has long objected strongly to Syria's support for anti-Israeli groups like Hamas and Hizbollah. It also accuses Damascus of failing to prevent foreign insurgents from crossing its border into Iraq. At one point after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, and other officials even suggested Syria was next in line to experience the brunt of US military might.

The sanctions follow the Syria Accountability Act, which Mr Bush signed into law in December. But the President chose not to take more drastic action authorised by the act, such as economic sanctions that would have barred American companies from doing business in the Syria.

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