US blacklists Syrian foreign minister

WASHINGTON, Lachlan Carmichael- The United States slapped sanctions on Syria's foreign minister and two other top officials on Tuesday as it pressed President Bashar al-Assad's regime to stop its deadly crackdown on protesters.
The sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department are the third in a series of punitive US measures placed on Assad and top government officials and follow calls by US President Barack Obama for Assad to step down.

US blacklists Syrian foreign minister
Asset freezes and bans on business interactions were imposed on Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, top presidential advisor Bouthaina Shaaban, and Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali, the Treasury Department said.
"Building on our sanctions targeting the entire government of Syria, we are bringing additional pressure to bear today directly on three senior Assad regime officials who are principal defenders of the regime's activities," said Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland linked the sanctions to "the role that (the three) play in propagating and advancing the reign of terror that Assad is exacting on his own people," who are demonstrating for democracy.
She charged that Muallem has "continued to beat this drum of international conspiracy and has attempted to cover up the regime's horrific activities by making claims that terrorists or others were responsible."
A senior administration official was harsher when speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"Walid Muallem has played a key role in trying to insulate the regime from the implications of its own brutality," the official told reporters.
"By devoting himself to strenuously trying to hide Syrian government culpability in the murder and torture of Syrian citizens, Muallem bears some responsibility for the crimes committed," the official said.
"He has intervened with counterparts to try to prevent the UN Security Council from taking action.
"Muallem remains an unapologetic, shameless tool and mouthpiece of Bashar al-Assad," the official said.
"In addition, Muallem has served as one of the links between Damascus and Tehran, strengthening Assad's reliance on Iranian equipment and advice in his relentless crackdown on the Syrian public," according to the official.
Nuland said meanwhile that "Shaaban has served as the public mouthpiece for the repression of the regime."
She expressed US concern that Ali Abdul Karim Ali had maintained "close ties" with Syrian intelligence throughout his diplomatic career and pursued activities in Lebanon that were "not compatible" with his diplomatic status.
"We have been concerned -- and we've conveyed these concerns to the Lebanese government -- about harassment of Syrians in Lebanon and the disappearance of some of them," Nuland said.
The new sanctions follow an August 18 order signed by Obama, who called the same day for Assad to step down, that froze all Syrian state assets inside the United States and forbade investment and exports to the country.
It also banned imports of oil and gas from Syria, aiming to hurt a key revenue stream for the Assad regime.

Wednesday, August 31st 2011
Lachlan Carmichael

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