The Donald Trump administration named its first round of individuals Wednesday, including President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma, in a sweeping sanctions campaign targeting the Syrian regime and its financial backers.
“Today we begin a sustained campaign of sanctions against the Assad regime under the Caesar Act,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter. “Many more sanctions will come until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war and agree to a political solution.”
The bipartisan Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act allows for sanctions on anyone — Syrian or foreign — that does business with the government, specifically in the construction, engineering, energy or aviation sectors. Targets also include anyone who provides support for the government’s military operations or those of its main backers, Russia and Iran.
In addition to Assad and his wife, several of the president’s relatives and members of his inner circle were designated Wednesday, including businessman Mohamed Hamsho and Assad’s younger brother Maher al Assad, who commands the Fourth Division of the Syrian Arab Army. The State Department also names Fatemiyoun Division, an Iranian militia operating in Syria.
Many of those listed were already under US sanctions, but “now anyone doing business with any of these persons or entities is at risk of sanctions,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Why it matters: The Caesar Act, named for the defector who smuggled evidence of torture and murder of Syrian regime prisons, aims to stop such heinous crimes. The Trump administration argues that squeezing the regime financially may open Assad to concessions he hadn’t previously considered.
But many fear civilians will be indirectly impacted by the sanctions, which come as Syria’s economy is on the verge of collapse. The currency has plummeted to record lows, the cost of medicine and food have soared and rare protests have broken out in government-controlled areas.
What’s next: Pompeo warned that in the coming weeks and months the United States will “continue to target those who enable the Assad regime to carry out atrocities.” The US Treasury Department is also expected to label the Central Bank in Syria “a financial institution of primary money laundering concern.”
Know more: Elizabeth Hagedorn delves into the debate over whether Syrian civilians will be the unintended victims of the sanctions campaign.