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Friday, January 05, 2007

US Seeks Asset Freeze on Syrian WMD-Linked Groups

Stepping up pressure on Damascus, the Bush administration on Jan. 4 moved to freeze U.S. assets of three Syrian government entities that it accuses of helping to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it designated the Syrian Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology, the Electronics Institute and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory as proliferators under an executive order aimed at combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

The designation freezes any U.S. assets they may have and prohibits Americans from any financial transactions with them. A Treasury Department spokeswoman also said the Treasury expected the action to prompt most foreign financial institutions to voluntarily cut ties to the three Syrian entities.

The Treasury said the three state-sponsored institutions are subordinates of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, which was designated by President George W. Bush as a weapons proliferator in June 2005 for its activities focusing on the development of biological and chemical weapons and missiles.

"Syria is using official government organizations to develop nonconventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them," Stuart Levey, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement. "We will continue to take action to prevent such state-sponsored WMD proliferators from using the international financial system."

The Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment when asked if the Syrian institutions actually held any U.S. assets.

The Treasury said the Scientific Studies and Research Center, or SSRC, is the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing nonconventional weapons and missiles.

The SSRC says it promotes civilian research for Syria’s economic development, including computerization of governmental enterprises. The European Union in 1986 provided a grant of 8.25 million euros to the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology to promote higher education in the fields of applied science and technology. The program was completed in 2002.

The Treasury said the newly designated Electronics Institute is responsible for missile-related research and development, while the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology provides training to SSRC engineers.

These organizations and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory in March 2005 were put on a U.S. Commerce Department list of entities that pose a risk of diverting exported and re-exported items into programs related to weapons of mass destruction, among other sensitive activities.
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