White House considers sanctions on Syria
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answers a question on Syria during a joint press conference with Haiti's president-elect Michel Martelly at the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 20, 2011. Clinton strongly condemned 'ongoing violence' by the Syrian government against demonstrators, saying Damascus needed to launch a 'serious political process' to end deadly unrest.
Kai Ryssdal: In Syria, the army has once again opened fire on civilian protesters in several cities across that country. So far about 300 protesters have been killed. In response, the White House today said it is considering targeted economic sanctions, as a way to punish the Syrian government. Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports, though, sanctions are going to have to be pretty spot on to have much effect.
John Dimsdale: The U.S. has long designated Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism, and therefore already bans just about all commerce. White House spokesman Jay Carney today said the sanctions currently in place are "aggressive."
Jay Carney: And this would be in addition to that if we were to pursue that course of action.
He said any additional sanctions would be targeted -- that usually means freezing the international assets and bank accounts of government officials and their families. But Simon Henderson at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says good luck with that.
Simon Henderson: I'm not aware that any Syrian official has any assets in the U.S.
He says Syrians do have European bank accounts, and the U.S. could say that banks with Syrian customers can't do business with us.
Henderson: Of course, none of this is terribly quick and this sort of action sort of tends to breed resentment among European banks who think they're caught in the middle on this one.
And even if the U.S. could convince European banks to freeze Syrian assets -- as it did with the bank accounts of Iran's leaders -- George Mason University professor Shaul Bakhash says the lessons learned from Iran are not good.
Shaul Bakhash: The Iranians have been able to divert trade through Chinese or Russian banks or banks in smaller countries where the banks are not much hurt by American sanctions because they don't do business in the United States.
More effective, says Bakhash, would be global unity against Syrian aggression. But the risk is that could quickly become a show of international indecision.
In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.