Syria Accountability Act of 2003

The “Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003” is a federal law of the United States (12/12/03) which provides for the imposition of a series of US sanctions against Syria in light of the US war on terror and Syria’s status as a state sponsor of terrorrism pursuing WMD.


The "Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003" (hereinafter- the Act) is a federal law of the United States (12/12/03) which provides for the imposition of a series of US sanctions against Syria in light of the US war on terror and Syria's status as a state sponsor of terrorism pursuing weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD).


The Act effectively constituted an effort by the US Congress to isolate Syria and change its behavior, based on the prosecution of the global war on terror and the accusation that Syria supports terror and pursues WMDs.1

The Act's stated purpose is to:2

  1. end what the US sees as Syrian support for terrorism;
  2. end Syria's occupation of Lebanon;
  3. stop Syria's alleged development of WMDs;
  4. cease Syria's illegal importation of Iraqi oil; and
  5. end illegal shipments of military items to anti-US forces in Iraq.

Sanctions in the Act

The Act requires that sanctions be imposed against Syria, unless Congress determines that Syria meets the requirements set out in the Act.3 Section 5(a)(1) requires the President to prohibit the export of items on the US Munitions List and Commerce Control List. Section 5(a)(2) of the Act requires the President to choose two or more sanctions from a list of six, specifically:

  1. Ban on exports of products of the US;
  2. Ban on US businesses investing or operating in Syria;
  3. Restriction on travel of Syrian diplomats to within a 25-mile radius of their posting in the US;
  4. Prohibition on Syrian air carriers from take-off, landing, and over-flight of the US;
  5. Reduction of US diplomatic contacts with Syria; or
  6. Blocking US persons from engaging in any property transactions with the Syrian government.

The Act provides for waivers of these sanctions if the President determines it is in the "national security interest" of the US to do so, and the President submits a report to Congress giving reasons for this determination.4

The administration agreed to implement the congressionally-mandated prohibition of export of munitions and dual-use items, as well as:

  1. prohibition of exports other than food or medicine to Syria; and
  2. prohibition on Syrian aircraft landing or taking off from the US.5

Additional Sanctions

At the same time as the Act was signed into law (5/04), the Bush administration announced that it was imposing additional economic sanctions against Syria in the form of Section 311 USA PATRIOT Act sanctions6 and International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) designations7.

The IEEPA designation constituted a declaration of "a state of emergency" regarding Syria, authorizing the Department of Treasury in consultation with Department of State, to freeze assets within US jurisdiction, belonging to Syrian individuals and government entities. To date the administration has implemented IEEPA designations against only three Syrians.8

Patriot Act section 311 sanctions require US financial institutions to sever all accounts with financial institutions deemed to be primary money laundering concerns. These sanctions were employed after the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri (2/05) to pressure Syria to proceed with legislative reform of its banking system to inhibit use of its financial system for terrorist financing and money laundering. Although some technical changes were eventually incorporated into Syrian legislation, they were few and have not been implemented.9

In addition, following the Hariri assassination, the US withdrew its ambassador to Syria and together with France, led international pressure to isolate Syria and force it to end its military presence in Lebanon, citing Syria's indirect responsibility for the assassination.10

Despite these sanctions and other outside pressures, the Syrian behavior targeted by the US has remained largely unchanged.11 The major alteration was the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon (4/05). As of September 2006, the President has extended the sanctions against Syria, despite noting that the actions and policies of the Syrian government continue to pose a threat to US interests.12

1 Christopher Marquis, "Bush Imposes Sanctions on Syria, Citing Terrorism," New York Times, 12/05/06.

See also: "US slaps trade sanctions on Syria." http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3705783.stm.

The Bush administration initially opposed the measure on the grounds of protecting executive prerogative and the concern that it would end Syrian cooperation with the US against al-Qaeda. See: Statement by the President on H.R. 1828. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/12/20031212-3.html.

However, continued Syrian intransigence on terrorism and toleration of insurgents and military items entering Iraq via its border, led the administration to shift its position and implement the Act (5/04). See: Flynt Leverett, The Syrian Paradox, p.16-17,144

2 "Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003." http://wwwc.house.gov/international_relations/108/90357.pdf

3 "Fact Sheet: Implementing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003."


4 See Section 5(b) of the Act, "Penalties and Authorization".

5 "Fact Sheet: Implementing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003."


6 "The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated the Commercial Bank of Syria (CBS), along with its subsidiary Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, as a financial institution of "primary money laundering concern," pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act." http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/js1538.htm

7 "Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons and Prohibiting the Export of Certain Goods to Syria." http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/05/20040511-6.html

8 The administration identified Ghazi Kanaan and Rustom Ghazali, then former and current Syrian intelligence chiefs in Lebanon, as special designated nationals under E.O. 13338 for directing "Syria's military and security presence in Lebanon and/or contributing to Syria's support for terrorism" (7/05). Following the preliminary findings of the Hariri investigation, the administration designated Assef Shawkat, current director of Syrian military intelligence, for directly furthering the Syria's support for terrorism and interference in the sovereignty of Lebanon (1/06).

David Schenker, "The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003: Two Years On," Washington Institute, 07/06/06. http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC07.php?CID=296

9 David Schenker, ibid.

10 Robin Wright, "U.S. and U.N. Step Up Pressure on Damascus," Washington Post, 15/02/05. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26044-2005Feb15.html

11 "This legislation alone offered little more than a symbolic penalty on Syria. To materially add to the sanctions that being on the terrorism list already imposes, the Syrian Accountability Act would have to have prevented all U.S. investment in Syria. Moreover, because the sanctions are only unilateral, Syria can turn to other trading partners in Europe and Asia to mitigate the consequences."

Dennis Ross, "U.S. Policy Towards A Weak Assad," The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2005. http://www.twq.com/05summer/docs/05summer_ross.pdf

12 Alfred B. Prados, "Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues," CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Council on Foreign Relations, 19/01/06. http://www.cfr.org/content/publications/attachments/Syria_US_Relations.pdf