White House Ups Financial Pressure on Syria

The Bush administration, turning up the heat on Syria (search), moved Thursday to block the financial assets of the country's interior minister and its chief of military intelligence for Lebanon.

The Treasury Department believes the two Syrian men have played lead roles in directing Syria's military presence in Lebanon.

The action against Ghazi Kanaan (search), Syria's minister of interior, and Rustum Ghazali (search), the chief of Syrian Military Intelligence for Lebanon, means that any assets belonging to these men found in the United States will be frozen. Americans also are forbidden from doing business with them.

The power for the department to take the action stems from a May, 11, 2004, executive order by President Bush. Thursday's designations targeting the two Syrians were the first under that order, said Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise.

Syria is on the U.S. State Department's list of countries and organizations accused of supporting terrorism. Despite strained relations with the United States, Syrian officials have repeatedly said they are cooperating with the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The country has said all its military forces left Lebanon (search) in April after some three decades as the dominant political and military force there.

National elections were recently completed in Lebanon.

"We are seeking democracy to take hold in Lebanon and other places in the Middle East, yet Syria continues to support violent groups and political strife," said Treasury Secretary John Snow.

Before taking his current post as interior minister, Kanaan served as the chief of Syrian Military Intelligence for Lebanon for 20 years, the department said. He was replaced by Ghazali in late 2002, the department said.

The department alleged that during Kanaan's command in Lebanon, he ensured that Syrian military intelligence officers remained "deeply involved" in Lebanese political and economic affairs.

Kanaan also is alleged to have provided support to Hezbollah, which the U.S. has deemed a terrorist group. "In 2002, three rockets in a convoy allegedly escorted by Kanaan were personally delivered across the Syrian-Lebanese border to Hezbollah in Lebanon," the department said.

Addressing Ghazali, he "manipulated Lebanese politics to ensure that Lebanese officials and public policy remained committed" to Syria's goals and interests, the department alleged.

In late 2004, he allegedly warned that Syria "was determined to physically harm anyone who interfered with Lebanon's economic situation and caused a crisis of confidence," the department said.

Apart from Syria's activities in Lebanon, the Bush administration faults Damascus for not keeping fighters from crossing its border into Iraq to join in the insurgency there.

And testifying on Mideast peace prospects Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said, "We are deeply concerned when Palestinian terrorist groups have offices in Damascus."