White House ratchets up pressure on Syria

President Obama pauses during a town hall meeting April 21, 2011, in Reno, Nev.
AP Photo
President Obama.
AP Photo

Outraged at the continuing attacks by Syrian government forces on protesters, the White House is considering new "targeted sanctions" against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Complete coverage: Anger in the Arab World

"The United States is pursuing a range of possible policy options," said White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor on Monday. He did not explain what kind of "targeted sanctions" the U.S. might pursue, but if actions against Libya are a guide, they could include a freeze on Syrian government assets in American banks and a ban on U.S. commercial transactions with Syria.

Vietor said the unspecified sanctions would be intended to make clear to the Syrian regime that its crackdown on protesters "is unacceptable."

In a Monday morning statement, Vietor again condemned the Syrian Government violence against its people, calling it "completely deplorable."

The spokesman said "the Syrian people's call for freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and the ability to freely choose their leaders must be heard."

"We condemn it in the strongest possible terms," said Vietor.

Today's statement follows five similar prior statements over the past month issued in the name of the White House or President Obama, but none of those raised the possibility of sanctions and just used tough words to denounce Syrian actions:

    • White House statement, 3/24/11: "The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government's brutal repression of demonstrations..."
    • White House statement, 4/1/11: We condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens demonstrating in Syria..."
    • Written statement by Mr. Obama: 4/8/11: "I strongly condemn the abhorrent violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government today..."
    • White House statement, 4/12/11: "...the United States strongly condemns the continued efforts to suppress peaceful protesters."
    • Written statement by Mr. Obama, 4/22/11: "The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators."

The U.S. has long viewed Syria as a destabilizing force in the Middle East against Israel and American objectives in Iraq.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.