WASHINGTON >> The Obama administration has begun drawing up targeted sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad and his inner circle, officials said Monday, as the White House escalated U.S. condemnation of the increasingly violent crackdown against anti-government protesters in which more than 300 people have been killed.
An official familiar with the process said inter-agency discussions about the severity and scope of possible sanctions are under way but that they would likely involve asset freezes and travel bans on Assad, members of his family and senior regime officials. Syria already is subject to numerous penalties as it is deemed a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department. But the new sanctions now being considered would target specific individuals accused of ordering or committing human rights abuses, the official said.
Similar sanctions were crafted for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his family and top aides. But the model for the Syria sanctions would likely be the penalties the administration put in place against senior Iranian officials for human rights abuses in the aftermath of disputed elections, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.
The official said that sanctions will be announced sometime soon, but the official was not specific about the timing. However, the official acknowledged an urgency to act and noted that calls for sanctions to be imposed quickly have been growing as Assad’s crackdown on protesters has intensified.
On Monday, Assad’s regime sharply escalated its crackdown on pro-reform demonstrators with troops backed by tanks and snipers storming the southern city of Daraa in the pre-dawn hours, according to witnesses. One witness said at least 11 people were killed as security forces fired indiscriminately on civilians. Another 14 people were lying in the streets, apparently dead or gravely injured, the witness said.
At the White House, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor deplored the latest developments and said that sanctions against the Assad regime were a possible response. His comments marked the first time a U.S. official has said publicly that sanctions are an option. Since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his administration had tried to engage Assad’s government and encourage reforms.
"The brutal violence used by the government of Syria against its people is completely deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms," Vietor said. "The United States is pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown and make clear that this behavior is unacceptable. The Syrian people’s call for freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the ability to freely choose their leaders must be heard."
Erica Werner contributed to this report.