U.S. Trying to Form Regional ‘Contact Group’ on Syria

The U.S. is working to form a regional “contact group” to help resolve the crisis in Syria, a top State Department official told Congress today.

“We’re running with this idea,” said Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian affairs.

Democratic Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, the subcommittee chairman, proposed creating a “Friends of the Syrian People” contact group last month. He said today the group would serve “as a main point of international engagement for the democratic opposition and the Syrian people.”

Feltman said the State Department supports the idea.

“We’re talking to others about it,” he said. “We’d like to try to get the Arabs themselves to play a leadership role in this.”

He said the issue may be raised at a meeting of the Arab League on Nov. 12.

“Now is the time for the Arab League to really take some action,” he said.

Casey said his panel was exploring whether U.S. sanctions against Syria might be expanded to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

Luke Bronin, deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes at the Treasury Department, said the impact of international sanctions against Syria have been “profound,” mostly because of European sanctions against the Syrian oil industry.

About a third of the Assad regime’s revenue, mostly from the oil industry, has been virtually eliminated, Bronin testified.

Casey said he will send a letter to the Treasury Department this week to urge the Obama administration to expand its list of individuals sanctioned by the U.S.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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