* Assad's brother among Syrians on sanctions list
* White House calls on Assad to "change course now"
* Iran's Quds Force also targeted
* Some export licenses also canceled
(Adds Clinton comments, paragraph 3)
By Mark Hosenball and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON, April 29 The United States slapped
sanctions on Syria's intelligence agency and two relatives of
President Bashar al-Assad on Friday in Washington's first
concrete steps in response to a bloody crackdown on protests.
Assad, Syria's long-serving ruler, was not among those
targeted under an order signed by President Barack Obama but
could be named soon if violence by government forces against
democracy protesters continued, a senior U.S. official said.
"The sanctions that were announced today are intended to
show the Syrian government that its behavior and actions are
going to be held to account," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton told reporters after a meeting with Japan's visiting
Sanctions for alleged human rights abuses were imposed
against Maher al-Assad, Bashar's brother, and Atif Najib, one
of his cousins, together with Syria's General Intelligence
Directorate and its chief.
Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard was also targeted,
accused of helping Syria's crackdown. [ID:nLDE73R2FG]
The action, details of which were first reported by
Reuters, marks a more assertive approach by Washington, which
has been criticized by human rights groups for not doing more
to curb Assad's efforts to crush an uprising against his
autocratic 11-year rule.
But another U.S. official said the White House is "not
ready" to call on Assad to step down -- as it has done with
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi -- because Obama and his aides
"do not want to get out in front of the Syrian people."
The White House said in a statement: "We call on President
Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own
The sanctions, which include asset freezes and bans on U.S.
business dealings for those on the list, build on broader U.S.
measures against Syria in place since 2004.
There are questions, however, whether new sanctions against
Assad's inner circle will have any dramatic impact since they
are thought to hold few U.S. assets. But U.S. officials said
they hoped European and Asian governments would follow suit.
"In addition to actions that we are taking, the United
States believes that Syria's deplorable actions toward its
people warrant a strong international response," White House
spokesman Jay Carney said.
He welcomed the decision by the U.N. Human Rights Council
to condemn Syria for its crackdown.
Separately, ambassadors from European Union nations
discussed a package of possible economic sanctions which could
be imposed on Syria to protest its violent crackdown on
Two Western diplomats told Reuters that the measures under
discussion could include suspending work on a proposed free
trade agreement between the EU and Syria and cutting off EU
funding for Middle Eastern "cooperation" projects in Syria.
Washington has stepped up pressure but has still moved
cautiously after working for the past two years to try to woo
Damascus away from its alliance with U.S. foe Iran.
The Obama administration is also worried about stoking
instability on U.S. ally Israel's borders and wants to avoid
another military entanglement in the Muslim world, where it is
involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
In his executive order, Obama said the Syrian government
had committed "human rights abuses, including those related to
the repression of the people in Syria, manifested most recently
by the use of violence and torture.
A U.S. official said the new sanctions were meant to show
that no member of the Syrian leadership was "immune" from being
held accountable. "Bashar is very much on our radar and if this
continues could be soon to follow," the official said.
"It puts Syria's leaders on notice that decisions to kill
unarmed civilians have consequences," said Senate Foreign
Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry.
A Syrian rights group said at least 500 civilians had been
killed since the unrest broke out in Deraa on March 18.
Authorities dispute the death toll, saying 78 security forces
and 70 civilians died in violence they blame on armed groups.
Despite that, Obama's response to the Syrian crisis so far
has been limited compared to Washington's role in a NATO-led
air campaign against Gaddafi's forces in Libya and its call for
Maher al-Assad is a brigade commander in the Syrian Army's
4th Armored Division that has played a key role in Deraa, where
protesters have been killed by security forces, the White House
said. Najib was described as former head of the Political
Security Directorate for Deraa during the deadly crackdown.
The new sanctions also target the General Intelligence
Directorate and its director, Ali Mamluk. The spy agency is
accused by U.S. officials of repressing dissent and of
involvement in the killing of protesters in Deraa.
The fifth target is Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard
Corps - Quds Force, which is already under U.S. sanctions for
supporting militant groups around the world.
The Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian government's
principal security agency which operates outside Iran, is
accused of being the "conduit" for material support Tehran has
provided to Syrian authorities to suppress protests.
In addition, the U.S. Commerce Department revoked licenses
for the export to Syria of parts for aircraft it said were used
by senior members of the Syrian government. One of the licenses
would have allowed the Syrians to obtain a luxury aircraft for
Assad's use, U.S. officials said.
Obama also renewed Bush-era sanctions on Syria in effect
since 2004, saying in a statement that while the Syrian
government had reduced the number of foreign fighters bound for
Iraq its actions and policies continued to pose a threat to
U.S. national security and the economy.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Andrew Quinn;
Editing by Eric Walsh)