WASHINGTON – Ratcheting up pressure to halt a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, the Obama administration for the first time slapped economic sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and his top aides.
The penalties announced Wednesday, a day before President Barack Obama is to deliver a major speech on the political turmoil in the Arab world, suggest that the White House is giving up hope that the measured approach it has taken so far can persuade Assad to allow greater freedoms.
In a letter to Congress, Obama called the sanctions a response to “continuous escalation of violence against the people of Syria.” However, he stopped short of calling for Assad to step down.
The sanctions target Assad, the vice president, prime minister and interior and defense ministers and the director of military intelligence and political security. The measure freezes any assets they hold in U.S. jurisdiction, and make it illegal for Americans to do business with them.