Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 5   No. 10 Table of Contents
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October 2003 

focus on Focus on: The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act
On October 15, the US House of Representatives voted 398-4 to approve the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSA), a bill that threatens Syria with diplomatic and economic sanctions unless it ends its sponsorship of terrorist organizations, development of weapons of mass destruction, and occupation of neighboring Lebanon. The legislation, expected to be approved overwhelmingly by the Senate in the coming weeks, is a reincarnation of the Syria Accountability Act, a bill shelved last year by congressional leaders at the request of Bush administration officials, who argued that its passage would obstruct diplomatic efforts to woo Syrian President Bashar Assad. Although similar objections had been voiced about SALSA since its introduction in April, continuing Syrian recalcitrance led the White House to abruptly end its long-standing opposition to congressional sanctions on Syria in early October.

Although many in the United States, ranging from neoconservatives to Lebanese-American activists, have rejoiced at the bill's passage, its implications have been commonly misunderstood. While SALSA is often referred to as the "Syria Accountability Act," it differs substantially from its predecessor.

SALSA and the Syria Accountability Act both require that the United States impose a specific, but flexible, regime of sanctions on Syria until the president has certified that it "does not provide support for international terrorist groups and does not allow terrorist groups . . . to maintain facilities in Syria," has "withdrawn all Syrian military, intelligence, and other security personnel from Lebanon," and has ceased the "development and deployment" of biological and chemical weapons and the "development and production" of medium and long range ballistic missiles.

Both bills outline a set of mandatory sanctions that the president must impose and a set of ala carte sanctions (of which the president must choose two) that are subject to presidential waiver. The ala carte sanctions are the same in both bills: ban all exports (other than food and medicine) to Syria; prohibit US businesses from investing or operating in Syria; restrict the freedom of movement of Syrian diplomats in the United States; prohibit Syrian airlines from entering American airspace; downgrade diplomatic contacts with Syria; and freeze of Syrian assets in the country.

However, the Syria Accountability Act made it mandatory that the president impose a ban on exports of "dual use" items to Syria, a ban on US financial assistance or other incentives to American businesses investing in Syria, and a ban on Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Trade and Development Agency (TDA) programs that benefit Syria. SALSA, in contrast, imposes only a ban on dual use exports.

In one important respect, however, SALSA is stronger than the Syria Accountability Act. Whereas the original bill specified that the president can waive the ala carte sanctions if he determines it to be "in the national security interest of the United States," SALSA allows the waiver only if it's determined to be "in the vital national security interest of the United States," adds a provision requiring the president to transmit a report to congress "that contains the reasons therefor," and limits the waiver to a renewable 6-month period. Thus, while the latest incarnation of the Syria Accountability Act imposes somewhat less severe punishment on Syria, it requires more accountability from the White House.

2003 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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