Bipartisan congressional initiatives target Syria

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Both parties and both houses in Congress launched bids to tighten Syria sanctions.

A letter sent Aug. 5 and spearheaded by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), its top Democrat, urges President Obama to implement unused sanctions available to him throughout the 2003 Syria Accountability Act.

The letter, signed by 221 lawmakers, asks Obama to ban U.S. businesses from doing business in Syria or with the government of Syria.

Sanctions currently in place under the 2003 act ban non-essential exports to Syria and ban Syrian aircraft from U.S. airspace.

Obama has through executive order already enhanced sanctions against Syria, targeting the ruling Assad family and its associates, in the wake of the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

A similar letter, spearheaded by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), is circulating in the U.S. Senate.

Separately, bills modeled on Iran sanctions and targeting Syria’s energy sector are under consideration in both houses.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and its House companion is sponsored by Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) also are sponsoring a bill that would seek to inhibit the exchange of technology between rogue regimes including Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Another Senate bill, sponsored by Lieberman and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska,) would prohibit using shipping certification services that work with such rogue regimes.

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