The United States slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for the actions of his security forces.
The White House announced the sanctions Wednesday, a day before President Obama delivers a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world. The speech is expected to include prominent mentions of Syria.
The Obama administration had pinned hopes on Assad, seen until recent months as a pragmatist and potential reformer who could buck Iranian influence and help broker an eventual Arab peace deal with Israel.
But U.S. officials said Assad's increasingly brutal crackdown left them little choice but to abandon the effort to woo Assad, and to stop exempting him from the same sort of sanctions already applied to Libya's Moammar Khadafy.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama said he issued the new sanctions order as a response to the Syrian government's "continuous escalation of violence against the people of Syria."
The sanctions will freeze any assets Assad and the six Syrian officials have in U.S. jurisdiction and make it illegal for Americans to do business with them. The United States had imposed similar sanctions on two of Assad's relatives and another top Syrian official last month.
U.S. Treasury officials could give no estimate on how much in Assad's assets were located in the United States that would be frozen by the new sanctions order.
The U.S. move came as Assad said earlier Wednesday that his security forces had made mistakes during the two-month uprising and blamed poorly trained police at least in part for the crackdown that has killed more than 850 people.