Growing U.S. Pressure and Threats Against Syria

January 15, 2005

On January 11, UPI reported that Bush administration "hard-liners" are considering launching selected military strikes at "insurgent training camps" in Syria and "border-crossing points used by Islamist guerrillas to enter Iraq."

An administration official said Syria has "camps in which Syrians are training Iraqis for the insurgency and others where Iraqis are training Syrians for the same purpose" which could be hit by U.S. air strikes. A former senior CIA official also stated recently "We should send a cruise missile into south-side Damascus and blow the Mukharbarat headquarters off the map. We should first make clear to them that they are the target."

These latest threats are part of the U.S. program of escalating pressure against Syria.

On a visit to Syria in early January, Richard L. Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, also delivered a "stern warning" to the Damascus government. He emphasized "that there's still a problem with former regime elements using Syria to help the insurgency and that it was very important to have that stopped."

In late December, President Bush stated in a news conference "We have sent messages to the Syrians in the past and we will continue to do so. We have tools at our disposal -- a variety of tools, ranging from diplomatic tools to economic pressure."

Another White House official stated that Bush is reviewing a wide range of options, including freezing the assets of high-ranking Syrian government officials, and military options have not been ruled out. "That's not the focus. But that is within the full panoply of tools available to effectuate change," the official said.

Syria has long been subject to limited economic sanctions by the United States because of its designation by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism. Last May, Bush issued an executive order banning U.S. exports to the country and barring all air flights between Syria and the U.S.

The main additional tool being weighed by the administration for possible further sanctions, officials have said, is authority wielded by the Treasury Department, which in May labeled the Commercial Bank of Syria a financial institution of "primary money laundering concern." Further steps by the Treasury are possible, the most severe of which would be to prohibit any American bank, broker or mutual fund from dealing with the Syrian bank, the country's single government-owned financial institution.