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US to push European allies for new sanctions on Syria after Russia limits aid

President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar Al-Assad. Image: The Defense Post/Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr/CC BY 3.0 BR

U.S. officials will meet with European counterparts in Brussels next week to discuss upping economic sanctions on the Syrian government, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Thursday, January 23.

“We’ll be going out next week to Brussels to talk about sanctions and other economic issues related to keeping the pressure on the Assad regime,” James Jeffrey, the State Department’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement, said during a press briefing in Washington.

Jeffrey said the U.S. “need[s] to put a lot of work into” maintaining sanctions on Bashar al-Assad’s government in response to its ongoing offensive against opposition-held Idlib province and Russia’s actions at the United Nations to limit cross-border humanitarian aid deliveries to areas of Syria not under control of the government.

“We see the CAESAR act as a very important lever to do that,” Jeffrey said.

The U.S. Congress did not pass the CAESAR Act, but parts of the legislation – which authorize sanctions against individuals and institutions seeking to do business with the Syrian government – were incorporated into the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

“We’ll be talking with the Europeans who are also of course implementing sanctions against the Assad regime, and are contemplating additional ones,” Jeffrey said.

Washington has pursued a policy of economic isolation towards Syria’s government, which is supported by Russia and Iran in its nearly nine-year civil war.

The U.N. has estimated the Syrian government, which has withstood the war, needs at least $350 billion for post-war reconstruction. The Trump administration has asserted that neither Russia nor Iran – both also under U.S. sanctions – are capable of covering the cost.

The Trump administration has pushed European allies not to provide reconstruction aid to territories controlled by the Syrian government, in opposition to Russian diplomatic efforts.

Washington is also engaged in a “maximum pressure” campaign to isolate Iran economically and politically after the Trump administration withdrew from 2015’s landmark international Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Tehran.

The U.S. administration has accused Tehran of exploiting the 2015 deal to expand its ballistic missile program and said the presence of Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq poses a threat to regional stability.