Title: “U.S. hints at plans for new measures against Damascus"
Author: Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters
WASHINGTON - The Syrian issue will resume top priority in coming weeks on the international and American agendas. In another few days, the special investigator appointed by the United Nations to find those responsible for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri is due to report his latest findings. The investigator, Serge Brammertz, is expected to visit Damascus early this week, and then to travel to the United States to present all the evidence he has collected since visiting Damascus three weeks ago.
A senior U.S. official told Haaretz last week that "if the Syrians think they've managed to get off the hook because there are other things on the agenda, they are mistaken. The Syrians have not been punished yet for their actions and we are continuing to study their conduct. Their luck will run out eventually."
Another senior U.S. official said that Syria will "soon" receive extra attention when new measures against it are unveiled.
Several senior U.S. administration officials have stressed to Haaretz in recent days that "we have not forgotten about Syria." Several hinted in recent weeks in conversations with colleagues that further plans might soon be implemented with the aim of increasing pressure on Syria.
Sources at the U.S. Department of Defense and at intelligence agencies say that Syria is continuing to allow terrorists to use it as a conduit to Iraq and to support terrorist organizations that undermine American policy in the Middle East.
"They are aiding directly in the killing of American soldiers, and we have still not settled accounts with them on that score," a U.S. official told a colleague from a foreign country two weeks ago.
A diplomatic official explained this weekend that the Syrian issue is bound up with the Iranian situation, as Tehran's apparent objective is to destabilize the entire region. The fact that Syria has "a weak leadership," the source said, gives the Iranians an advantage they never had before. "[Former president] Hafez Assad always held the Iranians as a card in his pocket, but in the case of [current President] Bashar Assad, the Iranians are the ones holding him as a card in their pocket."
Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department instructed American financial institutions to sever all links with the Commercial Bank of Syria and its subsidiary, the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, which the administration says have been used to launder terror funds. The treasury announcement also stated that the Syrian government itself made use of the bank to facilitate "international terrorist activity." The administration views cutting such ties - one of several options that were on the table - to be "an important step." As a diplomatic source put it: "This was the alternative we chose at this stage."
Last week's State Department report on human rights in various countries also underscored Syria's role in aiding terrorist activity throughout the Middle East.