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Obama Unveils New US Sanctions Against Iran, Syria

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday announced new sanctions against those who help the "repressive regimes" in Syria and Iran to suppress Opposition and pro-democracy activities by providing them with Internet surveillance software and telecommunication monitoring technology.

He announced the new sanctions against those whom he described as "digital guns for hire" in a speech delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Earlier, Obama toured the museum for the first time as President, accompanied by writer and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

In his speech, Obama noted the continued use of Internet and other telecommunication means by pro-democracy activists in the Middle East to coordinate their activities, and how the repressive regimes in those nations use advanced technologies to crackdown on dissent.

"I've signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence," Obama said.

"It's one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come, the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people, and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny," he added.

According to the White House, Obama's executive order signed on Sunday authorizes the U.S. to impose sanctions on not only the Iranian and Syrian governments, but also companies that provide them with technology that can be used for oppression as well as those who create or operate systems used to monitor, track and target citizens for killing, torture or other abuses.

"These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them," Obama said, stressing that his administration would continue to mount international pressure on the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad and to help Syrians "chart their own destiny."

He said his executive order required the U.S. intelligence community to "prepare, for example, the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the risk of mass atrocities and genocide," and added: "Across government, 'alert channels' will ensure that information about unfolding crises -- and dissenting opinions -- quickly reach decision-makers, including me."

The new sanctions announced on Monday are over and above several other U.S. sanctions imposed earlier on Syria and Iran. The previous U.S. sanctions on Syria were mostly over the continued brutal suppression of an ongoing popular unrest against the Assad regime.

The earlier U.S. sanctions on Iran were imposed in response to Tehran's refusal to roll back on its disputed nuclear program as well as the brutal crackdown on Opposition groups after the disputed 2009 presidential elections that returned incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back to office.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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