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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Syria: Background and U.S. Relations

Jeremy M. Sharp
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Despite its weak military and lackluster economy, Syria remains relevant in Middle Eastern geopolitics. Syria plays a key role in the Middle East peace process, acting at times as a "spoiler" by sponsoring Palestinian militants and facilitating the rearmament of Hezbollah. At other times, it has participated in substantive negotiations with Israel. Syria's longstanding relationship with the Iranian clerical regime is of great concern to U.S. strategists. As Syria grew more estranged from the United States throughout this decade, Syrian-Iranian relations improved, and some analysts have called on U.S. policymakers to woo Syrian leaders away from Iran. Others believe that the Administration should go even further in pressuring the Syrian government and should consider implementing even harsher economic sanctions against it. 

A variety of U.S. legislative provisions and executive directives prohibit direct aid to Syria and restrict bilateral trade relations between the two countries, largely because of Syria's designation by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of international terrorism. On December 12, 2003, President Bush signed the Syria Accountability Act, H.R. 1828, as P.L. 108-175, which imposed additional economic sanctions against Syria. In recent years, the Administration has designated several Syrian entities as weapons proliferators and sanctioned several Russian companies for alleged WMD or advanced weapons sales to Syria. Annual foreign operations appropriations legislation also has contained provisions designating several million dollars annually for programs to support democracy in Syria. 

In recent months, the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress have increased calls for greater U.S. engagement with Syria. Several Congressional delegations have visited Syria, and Administration officials recently held talks with their Syrian counterparts. Whether or not this dialogue will lead to substantial changes in the U.S.-Syrian bilateral relationship remains to be seen. 

H.Res. 1285, which was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on April 21, 2010, "strongly condemns the Government of Syria for transferring Scud missiles and other advanced weapons and missile systems to the Hezbollah terrorist organization" and, among other things, "urges the President to reevaluate the nomination of Robert Ford as Ambassador to Syria." 

This report analyzes an array of bilateral issues that continue to affect relations between the United States and Syria. 

Date of Report: April 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: RL33487
Price: $29.95

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