Syrian: Congress' Syria Accountability Act Is 'Israeli Policy'

DAMASCUS - Syria through its official media condemned the Syria Accountability Act on Wednesday, branding it an Israeli invention that would harm America's interests in the Middle East.

In a front-page editorial, Al-Baath, the mouthpiece of the ruling Baath party, accused the United States of producing the draft legislation to cover up its failures in Iraq.

The bill seeks to ban U.S. firms from trading with Syria, or investing in the country, unless the Damascus government takes various steps, including ceasing its alleged support for terrorist groups and its alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

A senior U.S. official told a congressional committee Tuesday that Syria was a "rogue" state that supports organizations the United States lists as terrorist, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. Syria denies it sponsors terrorism or possesses weapons of mass destruction.

John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, accused Syria of allowing militants to cross its border into Iraq and seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Bolton said there was no evidence to indicate that Syria had transferred weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations or that it would permit such groups to acquire them.

He urged lawmakers to let Washington try to change Syria's behavior through diplomatic means before passing trade restrictions and other measures.

Al-Baath newspaper said the United States was applying a logic that said: "If you're not with us, we will punish you."

"It is a dictatorial, tyrannical logic that contradicts the basis of international law and the logic of relations between countries," it said.

The Syria Accountability Act is "pure Israeli policy" and would damage U.S. interests and role in the region," the paper added.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa told reporters in Damascus on Tuesday that Syria was willing to meet "reasonable" U.S. demands within the framework of international law.

If the bill becomes law, its sanctions would be a serious blow to Syrian President Bashar Assad's goal of liberalizing the country's economy.

In Lebanon, the leader of the Hezbollah militant group, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, expressed support for Syria and condemned the U.S. bill.

"Syria's problem is that it has provided shelter and refuge to some Palestinian leaders and that it supports Lebanon and the Palestinian's right to resistance," Nasrallah told a news conference in Beirut on Wednesday. "For this, it stands accused of supporting terrorism."

Nasrallah accused the United States of failing to impose sanctions on Israel, which "openly practices terrorism, every day, with its F-16 aircraft."