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Experts Offer Guidance for President on Syria

4:57 PM, Aug 19, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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In a letter being circulated by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, conservative foreign policy experts, including Bill Kristol and Lee Smith, urge President Obama take a series of actions that will hasten the fall of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. The letter follows President Obama's statement yesterday that "the time has come for [Syrian] President Assad to step aside.”  

Official portrait of Barack Obama

The primary recommendation in the letter is that the U.S., together with our European allies, should sanction Syria’s energy (especially oil) and financial sectors, as well as those individuals who are committing human right abuses and promoting terrorism. The experts also argue that the U.S. should “Engage Syrian opposition figures outside the country and ensure that all available aid and assistance, including secure communications and Internet circumvention technology is being made available to these groups” and recall Ambassador Robert Ford from Syria.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

August 19, 2011

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear President Obama:           

We commend you for your administration's statement that “the future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way… For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

We are concerned, however, that unless urgent actions are taken by the United States and its allies, the Assad regime’s use of force against the Syrian people will only increase and the already significant death toll will mount.

As you have stated previously, the Arab Spring presents an opportunity to “pursue the world as it should be” rather than continuing to “accept the world as it is.”  There is perhaps no place where this is truer than Syria.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad and that of his father which preceded him, have brutally repressed the Syrian people for decades, imprisoning, torturing, and killing those who attempted dissent.  In recent years, Syria has formed increasingly close ties with Iran, jointly supporting terrorist groups with funds and weaponry used to terrorize American allies in the region. For years, the Assad regime pursued a covert nuclear program with North Korean assistance, which could have led to a disastrous cascade of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.  Finally, by facilitating foreign fighters’ transit through Syrian territory, the Assad regime contributed to the death and injury of thousands of American troops serving in Iraq over the last eight years.

The tactics used by the current regime make clear now more than ever that a post-Assad Syria is in America’s interest.  We commend you for adding your uniquely powerful voice to the chorus of foreign leaders in calling for Assad’s departure. We appreciate the executive order issued today that freezes Syrian government assets in the U.S.’s jurisdiction and prohibits new investment in Syria by U.S. persons or the exportation or sale of any services to Syria by U.S. persons. We commend you for freezing imports of Syrian petroleum products and prohibiting U.S. persons from transacting business related to Syrian-origin petroleum products. The actions send a strong message of support to the Syrian people in their quest for freedom.

We believe there is more than can be done. Specifically, we urge you to:

•    Work with our European allies to tighten the sanctions regime against Syria. Particular attention should be paid to potential multilateral energy sector sanctions as well as the passage of energy sanctions bills recently introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate. 

•    Encourage Germany, Italy, and France, which are the main buyers of Syrian oil, to terminate their purchases of Syrian crude; forcefully urge energy trading firms from Switzerland, Holland, and elsewhere to stop their sales of refined petroleum products to Syria; and pressure European, Russian, Chinese, and Indian companies to freeze their investments in Syria's energy sector and the transfer of any energy-related technology, goods, and services.

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