Syria Faces New U.S. Sanctions

The U.S. announces new sanctions against Syria, adding President Bashar Assad's name to a list of those whose assets in the U.S. are to be frozen. The move comes amid a continuing Syrian government crackdown on protests across the country.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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The Obama administration stepped up pressure today on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, vowing to seize any assets he might have in the United States.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, six other top Syrian officials were also added to a sanctions list.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The Treasury Department says the action it is taking against Assad, his vice president, prime minister and other top officials should send a clear message that the regime will be held accountable for the ongoing violent crackdown on protests.

President Assad has a choice, one official said, either lead a transition to democracy or leave. The administration had initially been reluctant to single out Assad. But as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear yesterday, his image as a potential reformer has faded, as the death toll mounts in Syria.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): President Assad talks about reform, but his heavy-handed, brutal crackdown shows his true intentions.

KELEMEN: Clinton said according to the U.S.'s best estimate, nearly 1,000 Syrians have been killed and many more have been arrested in the crackdown. And she claims that the Syrians are getting help from Iran.

Sec. CLINTON: They've embraced the worst tactics of their Iranian ally. And they have refused to honor the legitimate aspirations of their own people in Syria.

KELEMEN: Two top commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are also on a U.S. sanctions list for their alleged role in the crackdown in Syria. Syria has always denied that Iran is involved. The Syrian Embassy had no immediate reaction to the news of the latest sanctions.

It's not clear how much, if any, money might be frozen in the actions announced today. A Treasury Department official said it's too early to tell, but predicted it could be significant if financial institutions around the world follow the U.S. lead. The European Union's foreign policy chief says EU countries are also considering steps to further isolate the Assad regime.

The situation in Syria is likely to figure prominently in President Obama's speech at the State Department tomorrow.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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