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Thu 8 May 2008 12:17 PM

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US extends Syria sanctions

Decision taken due to 'extraordinary threat to national security, foreign policy and economy', says Bush.

President George W. Bush said Wednesday he was extending US sanctions against Syria following Washington's charge that Damascus had been building a nuclear reactor with North Korea's help.

Bush announced his decision to continue for one year a freeze on Syrian assets and the ban on the export of certain goods to Syria in an executive order and a message to the US Congress.

"I took these actions to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the actions of the government of Syria," Bush said in the order.

He accused Syria of "supporting terrorism... pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programmes including the recent revelation of illicit nuclear cooperation with North Korea."

The US president also said Syria was "undermining US and international efforts with respect to the stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq".

Bush initially slapped sanctions on Syria in May 2004, then extended them in April 2006 and widened them in February to target officials engaged in "public corruption", amid charges Damascus was destabilising Iraq and Lebanon.

Last month, US national security officials presented intelligence they said showed Syria had been building a secret nuclear reactor for military ends.

They told Congress the plant was being built with the help of North Korea, until its destruction by Israel in an air raid on September 6.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched an investigation into the US accusations but also chided both Israel and the US for their handling of the affair.

Syria denied the US allegations, promised full cooperation with the UN watchdog, and accused the US of a "campaign of lies" akin to US charges that Iraq had a weapons of mass destruction programme.

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