US Prepares Syria Sanctions


The U.S. is preparing to impose unilateral sanctions on senior officials in the Syrian regime, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Obama administration is drafting an executive order that would freeze the assets of those officials and ban them from doing business with anyone in the U.S., the Journal reported, citing administration officials. The U.S. sanctions would have minimal affect on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as it has few holdings here, but it would increase pressure on countries in Europe, where the Assads are believed to have more substantial assets, to act as well, according to the Journal report.

The order would be finished in the coming weeks, the officials told the Journal.

The White House declined to comment to the Journal on any future executive order, or on who would be targeted under a sanctions order. “We’re looking at a range of possible responses to this unacceptable behavior” in Syria, an Obama administration official said, without elaborating on what those options were.

The reported moves come as the Assad regime oversees a violent crackdown on protesters, of whom 200 were killed since uprisings began about a month ago. More than 80 were killed over the weekend alone as protests erupted in cities throughout the country.

The increased intensity of the crackdown diminished hope among diplomats in Washington and Europe interviewed by the Journal that had pushed for Assad to embrace reforms that were among the protesters’ original demands. (Assad said it was “time for reform” during a rare interview in January with The Wall Street Journal.) As the crackdown ensued, the list of demands made by the protesters has grown, and for some it includes the end of the Assad regime, whose family has ruled for four decades.

If the U.S. does impose sanctions on Syria, its approach would appear similar to that which it took against Libya amid Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s crackdown. Human-rights groups are pushing for high-level officials to be named in any sanctions order, including Bashar himself, as well as his younger brother, Maher al-Assad, who heads an army special forces unit alleged to be playing a central role in the crackdown. The president’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, is deputy chief of the Syrian army.

Any sanctions order would be a major break in U.S. relations with the Assad’s regime, which the Obama administration had sought to court since coming into office in 2009 after a cold period during the Bush administration that included a 2004 trade sanctions regime and financial penalties on Syria officials for their alleged support of militants in Iraq and involvement in corruption. WSJ