Fla. Sen. Rubio calls for more sanctions on Syria

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio Wednesday called for the Obama administration to ratchet up the pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has attacked anti-government protestors.

The freshman senator joined fellow Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, at a Capitol Hill press conference, to unveil a resolution that urges President Obama to expand sanctions against the Syrian government and speak out on the situation “directly, and personally.”

“We ask you to lead us now in making the cause of the Syrian people America’s cause as well,” Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in remarks directed at Obama. “In our words and actions, it should be clear that America is on the side of the Syrian people and that we support their right to peacefully pursue a better future for their country. We must also send an important message to the Syrian regime that we condemn its crimes and that Bashar al Assad should no longer be treated as the legitimate ruler.”

The press conference marks the Miami Republican’s first major appearance on the foreign policy stage and he bookended it with appearances on CBS and CNN.

“Any time a government has to use government forces and army forces to kill unarmed citizens in order to hold onto power, that makes them illegitimate and that’s what’s happening in Syria,” he said on CBS. “I hope the United States will be a clear voice saying that.”

The resolution declares that al-Assad’s government – “through its campaign of violence and gross human rights abuses, has lost its legitimacy” – an assertion the White House has not made, as it has with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"I know that there are some who had hoped when these protests first broke out that Bashar al- Assad would pursue the path of reform rather than the path of violence and brutality,” Lieberman said. “But that’s clearly not been his choice He is not a reformer. He is a thug and a murderer, a totalitarian leader who is pursuing the Qaddafi model, and hopes to get away with it.”

McCain said that three officials with the Syrian regime face sanctions, “but not the guy that’s giving the orders. It’s time we indicted the guy that’s giving the orders. And it’s time for the president of the United States to speak up forcefully and frequently.”

McCain said the senators aren’t pushing for air strikes like those launched in Libya – noting the uprisings are occuring “all over Syria.

“As a matter of practicality it’s almost impossible to intervene in any way but the ways we are advocating,” McCain said.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the treatment of protestors “barbaric measures” and suggested “there’s a window here for the Syrian government to address those concerns and that’s closing rapidly.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the White House has increased pressure against Syria and is working with its allies “to urge the government of Syria to cease the violence, to engage in political dialogue.”

He said the situations in Libya and Syria were unique, but that “it has been made abundantly clear to the Syrian government that its security crackdown will not restore stability and will not stop the demands for change in Syria.

“As it is in all these countries, it’s up to the people of the region to decide who its leader should be,” Carney said. “But we believe that the government ought to listen to its people, refrain from violence, and engage in political dialogue.