Obama Renews U.S. Sanctions on Syria

U.S. president accuses Damascus of pursuing weapons of mass destruction, undermining American interests.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday he had renewed sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to U.S. interests.

Obama, in a letter to Congress notifying it of his decision, accused Damascus of "supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq."

"For these reasons I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions," Obama said in the letter to Congress.

Renewal of the sanctions is required each year by Congress. The announcement came following the visit of two U.S. envoys to Damascus this week to try to improve ties.

The sanctions, imposed by former President George W. Bush, prohibit arms exports to Syria, block Syrian airlines from operating in the United States and deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system.

While the United States has made clear it wants better relations with Syria, a nation it has long accused of supporting terrorism, the renewal of sanctions shows Washington is not yet ready for a dramatic improvement in relations.

The announcement came a day after Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department's top Middle East envoy, held talks with Syrian officials in Damascus.

Feltman was accompanied to Damascus by White House official Daniel Shapiro. Their trip was part of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration's outreach to nations shunned by former President George Bush.

Meanwhile, a U.S. diplomat told Lebanese officials Friday that his country will not pursue relations with Syria at the expense of its ties to Lebanon.

"There is no deal with Damascus at Lebanon's expense and no compromise on the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (for the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri)," US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale said after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman at Baabda palace.

The Lebanese daily an-Nahar said Hale is expected to inform Lebanese officials about the results of Feltman's meetings in Damascus. He will also reiterate U.S. support for Lebanon.

Syria, which has been a power broker in Lebanon for 30 years, pulled its troops from its small neighboring country in 2005, but still has influential allies in the opposition. Those allies are in a tight race with the majority in Lebanon's upcoming Parliamentary elections, scheduled for June.