08/13/2011 01:24 EDT | Updated 10/13/2011 05:12 EDT

Syria Crackdown: Canada Extends Sanctions As Violence Continues Against Pro-Democracy Protesters


OTTAWA - Canada's foreign minister acknowledges that diplomatic measures have failed to end the brutal crackdown on reform protesters in Syria, but he says the West remains committed to stopping the bloodshed.

John Baird announced Saturday that Canada was extending sanctions imposed on President Bashar Assad's government in May.

The government will freeze the assets of additional people and entities linked to Assad, Baird said. Additional members of Assad's government are now banned from travelling to Canada.

But the Canadian sanctions are considered largely symbolic — Canada's exports to Syria are worth only about $60 million a year, and this country receives less than a tenth of that in imports.

The measures imposed in May also included a ban on exports of items that could be used by the Syrian military, such as arms and munitions. Canada also suspended all bilateral co-operation agreements and initiatives with Syria.

Baird admits the measures imposed by Canada, the United States and other countries haven't worked, but he said Canada and its allies are prepared to ramp up pressure.

"We're very committed to this and we'll continue to work with our allies and reach out to others to take more significant action," Baird said in a conference call from Mexico City, where he was meeting with government officials.

Baird didn't hint at what additional measures Canada might consider or when further steps could be taken. He said Canada has no immediate plans to recall its ambassador to Damascus, saying both the government thinks it's useful to maintain a presence in Syria.

"I think we'll leave our ambassador in Damascus as long as we think there's a value to doing that," he said. "I think it is important that for the time-being that Canada keep our ambassador there."

Syrian activists say at least 1,700 civilians have been killed in the government crackdown on protesters in the past five months.

The violence has generated increase pressure on the Assad regime to end the violence, Baird said.

"There's been significant movement in the Arab world in condemnations from a number of not just Arab leaders but others in the Arab world so the chorus is getting louder," he said.

The U.S. was also working diplomatic levers Saturday. The White House said President Obama spoke separately to British Prime Minister David Cameron and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Both leaders agreed with Obama that Syrian President Bashar Assad's government must end its attacks on civilians.