NEW YORK (AFP) -The United States is hoping to convince its allies to back new sanctions against Syria in response to its purported role in destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq and supporting the radical Palestinian movement Hamas, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.
“We’re going to have to look at tougher measures if Syria continues to be on the path that it’s on,” Rice told The Wall Street Journal in an interview, the transcript of which was released Monday by the State Department.
The United States has accused Syria of backing anti-US insurgents in Iraq and of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
It also says Syrian support for the radical Islamic militia Hezbollah in Lebanon was a factor in sparking the recent conflict with Lebanon, while Rice accused Damascus of undermining attempts to form a moderate Palestinian government by backing rejectionists inside Hamas.
In the interview with The Wall Street Journal and another given to The New York Times, Rice said the Syrians had effectively entered into an alliance with Iran, which she also accused of destabilizing the region through its support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraqi insurgents.
“The Syrians look as if they’ve made their choice and their choice is to associate with extremist forces in Iran, not with their … traditional partners like the Arab states,” she told the Journal.
US President George W. Bush extended in May a ban on some US exports to Syria, including military equipment, and renewed a freeze on the accounts of Syrians accused of supporting terror organizations.
Last month the Treasury blacklisted two senior Syrian intelligence officials, accusing them of sponsoring terrorism and destabilizing Lebanon.
Asked why Washington has only used relatively mild sanctions against Syria, Rice suggested the US had been held back by the reticence of European and Arab allies.
“What we’d really like to do is we’d like to get some others to join us in other kinds of sanctions,” she said.
“And I think as Syria continues to show its stripes and isolate itself from its Arab friends, that may be somewhat easier to do,” she said.
Rice added that an ongoing UN probe into Hariri’s assassination, expected to provide evidence of Syria’s suspected involvment in the slaying, would add to the case for sanctions.
UN chief investigator Serge Brammertz submitted a preliminary report on the assassination Friday but has been given until June next year to wrap up the probe — a timeframe Rice suggested was too long.
“It’s important that the Brammertz investigation get moving,” she said, expressing the hope that the final report would be ready by the end of the year.
Rice did not elaborate on what further sanctions she though Syria should face, but noted that the European Union recently halted talks on an association agreement with Damascus.