US imposes new sanctions on Syrian President Assad, his wife and officials


The United States has imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his wife Asma, and dozens of others on Wednesday, June 17, as it vowed a vast pressure campaign under a new law that has already rattled the war-torn nation’s economy.

While the US is hoping the sanction will push the Syrian regime back to United Nations-led negotiations, Russia and China have criticised the move.

Under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act – signed by President Donald Trump in December – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “many more” sanctions against the Assad government should be expected in the coming weeks and months.

US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft told the Security Council on Tuesday (June 16) that Washington would implement the measures to “prevent the Assad regime from securing a military victory”.

“Our aim is to deprive the Assad regime of the revenue and the support it has used to commit the large-scale atrocities and human rights violations that prevent a political resolution and severely diminish the prospects for peace,” Ms Craft said.

Syria’s central bank devalued the Syrian pound on Wednesday, giving in to weeks of depreciation on the black market as new US sanctions took effect.

The central bank raised the official exchange rate from around 700 to 1,250 Syrian pounds to the dollar, in statements published on its social media pages. The previous rate had been in force since March.

Russia and China criticised the US plan to impose further unilateral sanctions.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the US had confirmed “that the purpose of these measures is to overthrow the legitimate authorities of Syria”.

China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said that “as vulnerable countries like Syria are struggling with the (coronavirus) pandemic, imposing more sanctions is simply inhumane and may cause additional catastrophes”.

Ms Craft said the sanctions would be imposed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which aims to deter “bad actors who continue to aid and finance the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people while simply enriching themselves”.

The new sanctions aim to “starve” Syria and its neighbour Lebanon, the head of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah said on Tuesday.

“The Caesar Act aims to starve Lebanon just as it aims to starve Syria,” Mr Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

Addressing a separate meeting of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, accused Washington of trying to impose US law on the world and flouting calls for it to end unilateral sanctions.

A crackdown by Mr Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, with Moscow backing Mr Assad and Washington supporting the opposition. Millions of people have fled Syria and millions are internally displaced.

UN Syria mediator Geir Pedersen told the Security Council he hoped to convene opposing sides in Syria’s civil war in Geneva for negotiations on the Constitution toward the end of August. The constitutional committee negotiations struggled to make headway last year. (Source: The Straits Times)