U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday he would extend a national state of emergency over Syria for another year, citing the Arab state's continuing support for terrorists and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
Obama's decision means that despite Washington's recent attempts to ease tensions with Damascus, United States economic sanctions against Syria, introduced in May 2004, will remain in force.
"While the Syrian government has made some progress in suppressing networks of foreign fighters bound for Iraq, its actions and policies, including continuing support for terrorist organizations and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States," Obama said in a statement.
In recent months the U.S. has met with frustration in its attempts to woo the government of President Bashar Assad away from its close ally Iran toward better ties with the West.
Earlier in 2010 the White House announced that the U.S. would return an ambassador, veteran diplomat Robert Ford, to Syria after a five-year pause in American diplomatic representation there.
But the Obama administration's strategy of engagement has so far produced disappointing results, with Assad this year hosting Iran's virulently anti-American President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a high-profile Damascus summit, alongside leaders of the militant groups Hamas and Hizbollah - both on the State Department's list of terror organizations.
In April tensions soared further following Israeli claims that Syria had supplied Hizbollah militants in Lebanon with advanced Scud missiles capable of inflicting heavy damage on Israel's major cities – an accusation Damascus denies.
"The President took these actions to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the actions of the Government of Syria in 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," the White House said.
In 2007 Israeli warplanes bombed a site in Syria that the U.S. later claimed was a nuclear reactor intended to supply fuel for a clandestine bomb program.
The president added that the U.S. would be willing to reconsider emergency laws on Syria, which Sunday's measure extended until May 2011, if Damascus showed willingness to change its policies.
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