WASHINGTON : The US Congress overwhelmingly approved tough new sanctions on Syria for its alleged ties to militant extremists and purported efforts to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The measure received final approval from the Senate in a vote of 89 to 4.
"This bill ... adds to the tools available to the president to move Syria toward a more responsible course," said Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on the Senate floor.
The legislation, the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act, also calls on Damascus to end its occupation of Lebanon. The House approved the measure last month by a vote of 398 to four.
West Virginia's Robert Byrd... feared the vote "could later be used to build a case for a military intervention against Syria."
President George W. Bush last month ended two years of opposition to the legislation, and has indicated he will sign it.
The legislation gives the White House a range of options for sanctioning Syria, from restricting US exports and business investment to downgrading Washington's diplomatic representation and imposing travel restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the United States.
The bill also bans the exportation of "dual-use" technology, and allows the US government to freeze the Syria's assets in the United States and restrict overflight rights for Syrian aircraft inside US airspace.
West Virginia's Robert Byrd, who along with three others senators voted against the measure, said that while he is critical of Damascus, he feared the vote "could later be used to build a case for a military intervention against Syria."
"The bill speaks of 'hostile actions' by Syria against US-led forces in Iraq," said Byrd.
"I have not seen any evidence that would lead me to believe that it is the government of Syria that is responsible for the attacks against our troops in Iraq," the West Virginia Democrat said.
"Such insinuations can only build the case for military action against Syria, which, unfortunately, is a very real possibility because of the dangerous doctrine of pre-emption created by the (George W.) Bush administration," said Byrd, an outspoken critic of US Middle East policy, particularly in Iraq.
The vote comes as relations between Damascus and Washington have soured in recent months over Syria's alleged ties to groups the United States considers terrorists, as well as over weapons programs, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US occupation of Iraq.
The Bush administration long has accused Syria of actively supporting militant groups such as Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and providing safe transit for foreign fighters currently infiltrating Iraq and targeting US forces there.
Lugar said the new sanctions could force Damascus to shift its policy and take a more concilitatory posture toward Washington.
"Even as we tighten restrictions on Syria, we should be emphasizing to the Syrians why it is in their interest to recalculate their approach towards the United States," the Indiana Republican said.
"Syria shares a 400-mile (650-kilometer) border with Iraq. With more than 135,000 US troops deployed in Iraq, Syria needs to reconsider where its future security interests lie," said Lugar, who added: "This is not a threat of US military action, but a statement of the new reality on Syria's borders."
Senator Sam Brownback, a longtime critic of Damascus, said the time for negotiation is over, and advocated that the administration quickly move to impose sanctions.
"They should use these sanctions to the strongest degree possible," Brownback told reporters Tuesday.
In Iraq, Brownback said, "our troops are dying facing terrorist coming in from Syria."
"Given what Syria is doing today, I think they should throw the book at them."
Copyright © 2003 Agence France Presse