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Bush signs Syria sanctions bill

President George W. Bush
Bush says the the policy statements in the Syria sanctions bill are not binding.

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George W. Bush
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has signed legislation that seeks to punish Syria for its alleged ties to terrorism by authorizing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus.

But the measure also gives the president broad authority to waive penalties for national security reasons.

The White House announced the bill signing in a four-paragraph statement released late Friday.

In that statement, Bush says the bill is "intended to strengthen the ability of the United States to conduct an effective foreign policy," but he also maintains the bill's policy statements are not binding.

"A law cannot burden or infringe the president's exercise of a core constitutional power by attaching conditions precedent to the use of that power," Bush says.

The law, called the "Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003," was passed overwhelmingly by Congress last month.

It comes at a time when Washington has put increasing pressure on Syria to do more in the fight against terrorism, including stemming the flow of foreign fighters entering into Iraq.

The State Department has long considered Syria a state sponsor of terrorism, along with nations like North Korea, Iran and Libya. But only Syria has maintained full diplomatic relations with Washington.

In the measure signed Friday, it calls on Syria to "halt Syrian support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, stop its development of weapons of mass destruction, cease its illegal importation of Iraqi oil and illegal shipments of weapons and other military items to Iraq."

It goes on to say that Syria "will be held responsible for attacks committed by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups with offices or other facilities in Syria."

The bill prohibits sales of dual-use items -- goods that could be used in civilian programs and weapons development -- until the president determines that Syria is meeting all other requirements.

It also says the president must impose at least two out of six of the following sanctions:

Reducing U.S. diplomatic contacts with Syria;

Banning U.S. exports to Syria;

Prohibiting U.S. businesses from investing or operating in Syria;

Restricting the travel of Syrian diplomats in Washington and the United Nations;

Banning Syrian aircraft from taking off, landing in or flying over the United States;

Freezing Syrian assets in the United States.

But the bill does allow Bush to waive the sanctions for "one or more six-month periods if the president determines that it is in the vital national security interest of the United States to do so."

In his statement Friday, Bush said: "My approval of the act does not constitute my adoption of the various statements of policy in the act as U.S. foreign policy."

Administration officials have cited signs of progress by Syria, The Associated Press reports. They have said that Syria has taken steps to prevent anti-American terrorists and weapons from crossing its border with Iraq, offered more cooperation in searching for Iraqi frozen assets and lent support for a U.S.-sponsored U.N. Security Council on Iraq.

However, lawmakers who supported the bill said Damascus had fallen short in numerous other areas.

Following the bill's passage last month, Syria's Prime Minister Naji al-Otari dismissed the sanctions threat. He said in remarks published in the Egyptian magazine Al-Mussawar that they would have only a "very modest" effect, The Associated Press reported. He also labeled the anti-U.S. fight inside Iraq a "liberation movement."

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