The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it is imposing sanctions on 18 individuals and entities – including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wife and some of her immediate relatives, the commander of the Syrian military intelligence, the Central Bank of Syria and close advisers to Assad – in an effort to hurt Assad economically and draw him back to the negotiating table to find a political solution in Syria.
“Today, the United States is imposing sanctions on 18 more individuals and entities,” said Joel Rayburn, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Syria, during a call with reporters. “These individuals and corrupt businesses are impeding efforts to reach a political and peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict as called for by UN Security Council Resolution2254. Today’s sanctions demonstrate our resolve to curtail the ability of pro-regime actors, including military commanders, members of the Syrian Parliament, Assad regime entities and financiers from using their positions to perpetuate Bashar al-Assad’s futile and brutal war.”
Rayburn said that efforts by the Syrian first lady, Asma al-Assad, and her immediate family on behalf of the regime have perpetuated the Syrian conflict.
“Asma al-Assad has spearheaded efforts on behalf of the regime to consolidate economic and political power, including by using her so-called charity and civil society organization. Her and her family’s corruption is one of the many reasons that this conflict lingers on,” Rayburn said.
Asma al-Assad’s family lives in the UK, Rayburn said. Secondary sanctions will be applied to anyone who does business with the individuals and entities designated Tuesday. The effort was coordinated with the British government, Rayburn said.
“Today’s sanctions of these individuals who are based outside Syria should demonstrate very clearly to anyone who is watching that the United States will sanction those who are … committing violations and supporting the Assad regime in a material way, regardless of where they are,” Rayburn said.
Rayburn called two of the individuals designated – Lina Mohammed Nazir al-Kinayeh and her husband, Mohammed Hammam Mohammed Adnan Masouti – a “regime mafia power couple” because they have worked closely with Assad to protect his money and political power as he and his wife amassed assets.
“That is a way to strike at the assets of Bashar al-Assad,” Rayburn said.
Tuesday’s sanctions were rolled out under the authority of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which was signed into law last year and triggered the most wide-reaching and aggressive economic penalties ever imposed on Syria, targeting Assad and those close to him, as well as the energy, construction and banking sectors.
When asked what advice he would give to the incoming Joe Biden administration, Rayburn, a Trump political appointee who will depart his position after Biden’s inauguration, said that the goals set out by the larger Syria policy have wide support in Washington. He did not predict a sea change to Syria policy under Biden’s team.
“It’s not a Trump administration policy. This is a policy of the United States that has broad bipartisan support,” Rayburn said. Using the Arabic term for ISIS, Rayburn said, “It’s a policy that is built around the three goals of achieving an enduring defeat of Daesh, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups of that kind; of seeing the withdrawal of all Iranian military forces and militias from Syria; and of achieving a political solution to the conflict under Security Council Resolution 2254,” Rayburn said. “Those goals already have a consensus behind them in Washington. And I really don’t think you’re going to see a significant change, away from those goals.”
Rayburn said that while there are other tools at the disposal of the US, such as law enforcement action, political isolation and economic pressure are effective.
“Don’t underestimate the power of economic pressure combined with political isolation. This, over time, can have a very severe effect,” Rayburn said. “I think we’re seeing that the Assad regime and its allies have no answer for it,” he added, referring to the impact of the recent sanctions enabled by the Caesar Syria Civilian Protect Act.
The Trump administration has not had success in securing a political resolution to end the Syrian conflict, but Rayburn said he was confident that a resolution was closer now than it was four years ago.
“In my view, we are entering a window where … over time the Assad regime and its allies are steadily weakening. And over time, the United States and the European Union, if we remain committed to the pressure campaign, the leverage is growing, and that will have a political impact. It can’t help but have one,” Rayburn said. “I’m quite confident that we’re closer to a resolution of the conflict than four years ago.”
Rayburn had nothing to say about the US military mission in Syria ending anytime soon.
“The US military is continuing its mission – as part of the global coalition in the campaign to defeat ISIS. There is still more work to be done,” he said.