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Saturday, January 06, 2007

US Treasury Steps up Pressure on Syria

The Bush administration, intensifying pressure on Damascus , moved Thursday to financially clamp down on three Syrian institutions suspected of helping spread weapons of mass destruction

The Treasury Department's action means that any bank accounts or financial assets belonging to the three entities found in the United States would be frozen. Americans also are prohibited from doing business with them.

The three entities targeted are the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology, the Electronics Institute and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory.

" Syria is using official government organizations to develop nonconventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them," Stuart Levey, Treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in explaining the United States ' action.

The department has the power to take the financial-blocking action under an executive order issued by President Bush in June 2005.

The three entities acted against Thursday are "subordinates" of the Scientific Studies and Research Center , the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them, the department said.

The government ordered U.S. banks to freeze the center's assets in 2005. The Treasury Department said that although the center promotes its civilian research function, its "activities focus substantively on the development of biological and chemical weapons."

The department alleged that the Electronics Institute is responsible for missile-related research and development. It described the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology as educational institution that provides training to engineers of the Scientific Studies and Research Center . The government didn't provide details on the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory but said that South Korea and Japan have identified the lab as a "proliferation concern."

The United States ' relationship with Damascus has been strained for several years.

Last month, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group urged the Bush administration to have serious talks with Syria and with Iran as part of a new Iraq strategy. But the U.S. has been reluctance to seek help from Syria on Iraq until the Syrians curb their support to radical Palestinian groups and to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

By Jeannine Aversa

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