"Despite its weak military and lackluster economy, Syria remains relevant in Middle Eastern geopolitics. The Asad regime has its hands in each of the four major active or potential zones of conflict in the region (Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, and Iran). […] Syria also plays a key role in the Middle East peace process, acting at times as a 'spoiler' by sponsoring Palestinian militants and facilitating the rearmament of Hezbollah. […] Finally, Syria's longstanding relationship with the Iranian clerical regime is of great concern to U.S. strategists. As Syria has grown more estranged from the United States, Syrian-Iranian relations have improved, and some analysts have called on U.S. policymakers to woo Syrian leaders away from Iran. Others believe that the Administration should go even further in pressuring the Syrian government and should consider implementing even harsher economic sanctions against it. A variety of U.S. legislative provisions and executive directives prohibit direct aid to Syria and restrict bilateral trade relations between the two countries, largely because of Syria's designation by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of international terrorism. On December 12, 2003, President Bush signed the Syria Accountability Act, H.R. 1828, as P.L. 108-175, which imposed additional economic sanctions against Syria. In recent years, the Administration has designated several Syrian entities as weapons proliferators and sanctioned several Russian companies for alleged WMD or advanced weapons sales to Syria. Annual foreign operations appropriations legislation also has contained provisions designating several million dollars annually for programs to support democracy in Syria. This report analyzes an array of bilateral issues that continue to affect relations between the United States and Syria."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33487