House votes for Syria sanctions

For Immediate Release:

October 16, 2003

Contact:Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

The House voted yesterday to impose sanctions on Syria that would prohibit it from buying dual-use technology and that could restrict diplomatic and economic ties until the nation ends its weapons programs and ties to terrorism.

The measure passed 398-4, with five members voting "present." Two Democrats, Reps. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii and Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, joined two Republicans, Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona, in voting against it. The bill still needs Senate approval before going to President Bush. Mr. Bush last week said he no longer opposes the bill, but has not said whether he would sign it.

Members of Congress said passing the sanctions is a serious and long-overdue step in the war on terror.

"International sanctions have been levied against Syria for years, and Syria's regime has only scoffed at them," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "But times have changed, and the heightened sanctions in this bill are just the beginning. Congress will be watching Syria's every move and responding accordingly."

"We'll send a clear message to President [Bashar] Assad and his fellow travelers along the axis of evil: The United States will not tolerate terrorism, its perpetrators or its sponsors. And our warnings are not to be ignored," Mr. DeLay said.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he saw firsthand how Syria supports terrorists during a recent trip to the Middle East.

"We traveled to the Israel-Syrian border in the Golan Heights, where members of Hezbollah openly walk about on the Syrian side. As far as I'm concerned, Syria's relationship with Hezbollah is reason enough to end economic relations with Damascus," he said.

Syria is suspected of having ambitions for nuclear weapons, as well as other weapons of mass destruction. The nation also is seen as a supporter of Hezbollah and other groups the United States recognizes as terrorist organizations.

Mr. Assad has said he will not expel those groups because they haven't committed a crime against Syria.

The bill would prohibit U.S. companies from selling dual-use technology — which has both civilian and military applications — to Syria, and also would require Mr. Bush to choose two other sanctions from a list of a half-dozen options.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, and had wide bipartisan support.

Those who voted against the measure said they didn't intend to endorse Syria, but questioned whether such sanctions were the right tool.

"The history of unilateral economic sanctions is not encouraging. I'd rather increase, not diminish, the president's flexibility to respond to Syria," Mr. Flake said last week during a committee hearing.

Mr. DeLay said he has spoken with Senate leaders, who have assured him they will take up the bill. It has at least 75 sponsors, almost assuring its passage in the Senate.

Mr. Bush had opposed the bill as a restriction on his exercise of foreign policy. Last week, however, the administration announced he had dropped his opposition. A Republican aide said Mr. Bush this week told Republican leaders he was pleased with the measure and called it another tool in diplomacy.