Trump Administration eyes new phase of Syria sanctions
18 Aug 2020

The Trump administration is readying new rounds of sanctions against Syria, U.S. officials said, planning to expand its blacklist by focusing on financial-support networks outside the war-torn nation in a renewed effort to coerce Damascus into peace talks.

As President Bashar al-Assad has secured military and political gains in recent months, the U.S. officials say that targeting the regime’s financial lifelines from supporters in other countries will escalate international pressure for a negotiated peace and political transition.

To do that, the U.S. wants to cut off financing for the Assad regime from abroad, investigating the networks of international companies connected to the regime and stepping up diplomatic efforts to pressure governments, including U.S. allies, to sever cash flows, the officials said.

The efforts follow moves by the U.S. Treasury and State Department to sanction nearly three dozen individuals and businesses over the last two months, particularly focusing on Assad family members who the U.S. says form the core of the Syrian president’s power structure and help finance the regime.

Recent targets include Mr. Assad’s son and British-born wife, who U.S. officials say is overseeing a large portfolio of commercial assets. The Trump administration has sanctioned members of the Assad family and others under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which seeks to pressure the regime over violence against civilians.

Additional sanctions are being prepared, U.S. and Western officials say, with several other contacts and networks under scrutiny. Those include supporters and associates of the Syrian regime in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, as well as real estate and other firms in Europe tied to the Assad family and to a leading Syrian businessman who is related to Mr. Assad, they said.

The U.S. has also already blacklisted Iranian and Russian companies and officials for their support of the Assad regime, using separate sanction powers.

“We are maintaining our maximum political and economic pressure…targeting the regime, particularly military elements and those who are facilitating oligarchs, and others who are facilitating Assad’s evil work,” James Jeffrey, the State Department’s special representative for Syria, said.

In June, Mr. Jeffrey publicly warned that the U.A.E. could face punitive action if anyone is found aiding the Assad regime. “The U.A.E. knows that we are absolutely opposed to countries taking these diplomatic steps” of rapprochement with Syria. Those who aid the regime in any way “are a potential sanctions target,” he said.

The U.S. warning came after the reopening of the Emirates’ embassy in Damascus and following an offer to Mr. Assad of Covid aid earlier this year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince. Regional businesses also have been cautioned by the U.S. against seeking to invest in Syria at the risk of sanctions.

The U.A.E. is a U.S. security ally and a key partner on sanctions, but its contacts with the Assad regime pose a dilemma for U.S. policy objectives. The U.A.E. has initiated a rapprochement with the Syrian leader, hoping to gain a political and economic toehold in postwar Syria, U.S. diplomats and a person close to the Syrian regime say.

The U.A.E. has delivered masks and other personal protective equipment to Damascus in the past month, according to a Syrian businessman familiar with the regime.

By Ian Talley and Benoit Faucon, The Wall Street Journal, 16 August 2020

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

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