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Washington Punishes Damascus, Eyes Moscow

Washington Punishes Damascus, Eyes Moscow

Friday, 31 July, 2020 - 10:45
A US soldier carries a US flag as the official military spokesperson for international military intervention against ISIS speaks at a military base in Rumaylan (Rmeilan) in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on July 28, 2020. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

The new sanctions imposed by Washington under the Caesar Act have put more pressure on Moscow to work on “changing the behavior of the Syrian regime.”

The southwestern region of Syria may be a gateway to express this “change” by expelling Iran and its organizations from this region in implementation of Washington’s interpretations of the Russian-US agreement dating back to 2018.

It was remarkable that the last list included Hafez Assad, the son of Syrian Regime President Bashar Assad, knowing that the first batch of sanctions also targeted Assad’s wife, Asma.

According to observers in Washington, Syrian officials “were surprised by these two designations, because they expected that the blacklist would not include figures from the narrow circle”.

But this deliberate move was aimed at sending a “political message” to both Moscow and Damascus: “The boycott in Washington has surpassed parties and institutions and became unanimous.”

This was evident in the remarks made by US Deputy Envoy Joel Rayburn, saying: “It has been such a prominent trend among Syrian regime actors to use their adult family members, whether those are siblings or children, to try to continue business in their place after being sanctioned.”

This necessitates the designation of relatives, even if they are not personally implicated in conduct that falls within the sanctions regime, he emphasized.

There are about 50 names and entities on the US “blacklist”. In the coming months, twice that number of military and government officials, deputies and businessmen, both Syrians and non-Syrians, will be included.

“It is no longer possible to live in two worlds: Everyone must choose his position and determine the world in which he wants to live in. Washington’s world or the regime’s world,” European diplomats said, commenting on Washington’s recent moves.

They noted that those responsible for the Syrian file in Washington were confident that the American policy is “successful, as it increased the pressure on Damascus and changed Moscow’s calculations.”

The same diplomatic sources pointed to “the failure of Arab or European attempts to break Damascus’ isolation and normalize relations with it.” Arab businessmen have also avoided contributing to the reconstruction of Syria amid the worsening economic crisis in both Syria and Lebanon.

Geopolitically, those handling the file in Washington see other “successes”, including the continuation of the ceasefire in Idlib.

“The data indicates that Turkey will not back down in Idlib” and that the flow of humanitarian aid continues despite the presence of only one open gate at the Turkish border.

Another success, according to officials in Washington, is “the ongoing Israeli raids on Iranian sites in Syria, with Russian blessing and American support,” to prevent Tehran from consolidating its military presence there.

Third, Washington is lauding the sustainability of the disengagement agreement east of the Euphrates, despite the continued “harassment” of Russian forces against the US army and their attempt to “extend” toward the borders of Iraq.

Against the backdrop of these “successes”, contacts continue between Washington and Moscow.

Russia seems more aware of the “scale of the problem” in Syria and is showing a more realistic approach than the public statements that focus on launching campaigns against the US “unilateral and unlawful sanctions.”

The Americans say that there will be no “free move” towards Moscow, but they are ready to “respond positively to any steps taken by Russia in Syria.”

Obviously, there are two areas for testing the current Russian position: First, the extent of Damascus’ response to the form and content of the work of the Constitutional Committee meeting in Geneva on August 24 for the implementation of Resolution 2254. Second, Russia’s pressure on Iran to expel it from southwestern Syria in line with the US-Russian agreement in 2018, as weakening the Tehran regime represents an American-Russian joint interest in Syria.

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