Did the U.S. really lift sanctions off Syria temporarily?
(The following article was originally published by CGTN, on the 17th of February 2023)
The U.S. Treasury announced a decision on February 9 claiming to allow an easing of sanctions imposed on Syria for the ensuing six months until August 8, as part of "earthquake relief efforts."
The decision allows for "third parties" to transfer aid to Syria without fear of U.S. sanctions, but should only be intended for aid to earthquake-effected areas. Nonetheless, the sanctions programs applied to Syria for many years, the most severe of which are the Caesar Act (2019) and Captagon Act (2022), provide for "humanitarian exceptions," but are conditional on U.S. approval.
Syria and U.S. sanctions
According to The Atlantic, until May 3, 2019, the U.S. had imposed 7,967 sanctions worldwide. According to the U.S. Treasury website, Washington has 38 active sanctions programs globally; some have been ongoing for more than 60 years, such as sanctions against Cuba.
Regarding Syria, the first U.S. sanctions program there against dates back to 1979, and it's still in effect. Later, a sanctions program began in 2004 and still ongoing. Syria is not an exception. The U.S. has not lifted almost any sanctions it had imposed, including on Russia, China, Iran, Belarus, Cuba, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Nicaragua, the DPRK, Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other countries, as well as sanctions programs not directed at a specific country, which related to "terrorism" or "drug trafficking," that could affect any country, entity or individual around the world.
Syria's recent experience with Western sanctions, particularly the U.S. sanctions, over the last 10 years, is bitter. The U.S. claims the sanctions aim to defend Syrian civilians and change the Syrian government's behavior, but reality and history refutes both these declared goals.
The main victims of U.S. sanctions are ordinary Syrian civilians, whose crises were not alleviated by the alleged "humanitarian exemptions." In this context, let's reference a press release of the UN Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, Alena Douhan in November 2022, after a 12-day visit to Syria. The reporter said, "the total economic and financial isolation of the country" and that "90 percent of Syria's population was currently living below the poverty line… and warned that the country was facing a massive brain-drain due to growing economic hardship." Douhan disclosed that more than half of the vital infrastructure is destroyed or severely damaged and the "serious shortages in medicines and specialized medical equipment."
Meanwhile, the sanctions haven't changed the behavior of regimes over the past 60 years.
What is the real objective?
Accordingly, the new U.S. Treasury decision is just a media spectacle to reduce U.S. embarrassment. The motives for such a decision should also be pondered, such as was with the Captagon Act, which the Syria-based Kassioun Research Unit suggests was aimed at "perpetuating chaos and acting against Astana." The U.S.'s goals is to more forcefully re-enter, through the humanitarian side, northeastern and northwestern Syria, with the aim of working against the prospect of a Syrian-Turkish settlement, which Russia, Iran, and Türkiye have been working on for months, and which can greatly reduce Washington's influence in Syria.
Although Washington's overt and direct military intervention in Syria did not begin until September 2014, under the label of the "global coalition to defeat ISIS," its intervention had begun since the outset of the crisis in Syria in 2011, and possibly earlier. The intervention encompassed several fields, including military support for certain portions of Syrian rebels, as well as media and political support, including in the UN Security Council, where the required model for Syria was to repeat the Libya model, which the joint Russian-Chinese veto on October 4, 2011 blocked.
The objective of the various tools used by Washington in Syria may be summed up by the words of the former U.S. envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey: "make it (Syria) a quagmire for the Russians," as well as saying: "stalemate is stability." Hence, what is required by the U.S. is not a solution to the Syrian crisis, but managing and ensuring it continues for a long time.
Apparently, Washington's goal is to maintain its hegemony in the world and for everyone to continue warring against each other; particularly in the Middle East region. The U.S. seeks no real political stability, since the American presence and influence in the region has become predicated on chaos, and without chaos, that will rapidly decline.
The term crisis in Chinese is a combination of two terms: danger and opportunity. This applies to the crisis caused by the earthquake in Syria and Türkiye, since the danger and pain that unites them, as well as a rare opportunity to move faster in settling relations between them. Additionally, the Syrian-Turkish border is Syria's longest one with its neighbors, extending for over 900 kilometers, and forms the widest potential corridor to break the sanctions and blockade imposed on Syria, if a settlement is reached. Therefore, Washington is rushing to use all means at its disposal to fight against this opportunity, including by working against breaking the blockade and sanctions by implying that the sanctions do not hinder humanitarian relief.
Note: Mohannad Dlykan is a Syrian journalist and the Council Secretary of People's Will Party in Syria.