"We hope that the administration would reconsider," Ghasan al-Rifai said on Sunday. "There is nothing better than dialogue. Dialogue, in my opinion, and patience and understanding are always the answer to conflicts." 

Al-Rifai said sanctions could harm the interests of US firms that have contracts with Syria, mainly in the oil industry. 

Congressional officials said on Friday the administration of US President George Bush planned to impose sanctions within weeks for supporting the factions it sees as "terrorist groups".

Type of embargo

Several US sources have said the White House is leaning toward economic rather than diplomatic sanctions under legislation signed by Bush in December. 

"We still do not know what type of sanctions are being considered," al-Rifai said. "There are always adverse effects to any sanctions." 

The Syria Accountability Act bars trade in items that could be used in weapons programmes. The restrictions would remain in force until the administration certifies Syria is not supporting terrorist groups, has withdrawn personnel from Lebanon, is not developing unconventional weapons and has secured its border with Iraq. 

The law also authorises Bush to impose at least two other sanctions from a menu that includes barring US businesses from investing in Syria, restricting travel in the United States by Syrian diplomats, and banning exports of US products other than food and medicine to Syria. 
 
Freedom fighters

Syria, which says its presence in Lebanon is part of a sovereign arrangement with Beirut, argues that its support for the anti-Israel groups it calls freedom fighters is merely political and that the groups' only activity in Syria is speaking to media. 

Syria says its support of anti-
Israeli groups  is only political

"Economic cooperation can help improve political relations," said al-Rifai, but added that he did not expect the sanctions to have a heavy toll on the Arab state's economy. 

"The volume of trade between the two countries is marginal. It is about $300mn only." Al-Rifai said many non-US firms were lining up to take over the contracts of US firms who might be barred by sanctions. 

"If they stay, we welcome them because they deepen and fortify relations and if they did not I wonder whose loss that would be?" he said. At the end of the day their profits went to the US economy, al-Rifai added. 

Dialogue

"The United States has always said that it supports the principle of dialogue ... if matters can be solved through diplomatic means then that would be the best way," he said. 

"We can't do much about them [sanctions] if they are imposed and things that are imposed you have to deal with them and try again through dialogue to see how can they be lifted." 

The US legislation allows the White House to waive the sanctions, but a senior administration official has said that the act will be implemented.