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US Senators Urge Against Waiving Caesar Sanctions in Northern Syria

US Senators Urge Against Waiving Caesar Sanctions in Northern Syria

Monday, 28 March, 2022 - 05:15
A US military vehicle, part of a convoy arriving from northern Iraq, drives past an oil pump jack in the countryside of Syria’s northeastern city of Qamishli on October 26, 2019. (AFP)

Republican Senators at Congress have warned Joe Biden's administration against lifting any sanctions against the Syrian regime, even though no official moves on the ground have been taken to that end.

The legislative and executive authorities in the US have frequently tussled over the Syria, going back to the term of President Barak Obama. The debates eventually led to the unanimous adoption of the Caesar Act that has outlined American policy over Syria.

Media leaks have, however, revealed that the Biden administration is seeking to waive the Caesar Act in northern Syria under the pretext of improving humanitarian and economic conditions there.

The concern prompted three Republican senators, Joe Wilson, Claudia Tenny and Pat Fallon, to issue a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asking him to clarify the claims.

They warned against easing sanctions against the regime and regions under its control. "The Caesar Act already provides exemptions for humanitarian relief, in addition to those which already exist in current law," read the letter.

"It is troubling that the administration has reportedly reached a decision to issue a broad geographical waiver while having offered no explanation to Congress for why the existing waiver and license structure is insufficient to achieve US objectives in northern Syria," it continued.

"Why are these waivers necessary when humanitarian assistance is already exempted under the Caesar Act and other laws and the existing authorities include a licensure mechanism?"

"How will the administration guarantee that the Assad regime or its affiliates and front companies will not be able to generate revenues of gain access to foreign currency through these waivers?"

The State Department denied that the administration was seeking to weaken sanctions on the Assad regime and in areas under its control.

A Department spokesperson told Asharq Al-Awsat that the administration will stress going forward in the political process as stipulated in United Nations Security Council resolution 2254.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said the administration opposes any reconstruction efforts led by the regime. It will not back down on its "firm" stance over this issue until progress is achieved in the political process.

They stressed that no sanctions will be lifted off Assad and his regime and no waivers will be granted to them.

The spokesperson did not respond to the media leaks or the senators concern that the regime may exploit the lifting of sanctions on regions held by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria and the Turkish-backed opposition in the northwest.

They instead said the administration supports providing humanitarian aid to Syria through all means, including the cross-border mechanism that was approved by the Security Council. Discussions will continue with all members of the Council over this issue. The mechanism is a guarantee for delivering life-saving aid to Syrians.

Former Syrian diplomat Bassam Barabandi described as "dangerous" the proposal that the administration may lift sanctions.

He explained that some officials in the American administration, who are tasked with Middle East affairs, believe that there can be no solution to wars in countries, such as Yemen and Syria, except in recognizing the de facto powers, even if some regions are run by a terrorist authority.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said the proposal that is now being weighed focuses on the possibility of finding common economic factors between the warring parties in Syria so that they could eventually reach a political solution that takes into account the de facto forces and their interests, even if they are illegal.

This effectively means the economic division of Syria and eventually its political and geographic division, he noted.

This decision coincides with western negotiations with Iran over its nuclear deal that are reaching a "happy ending" and the prices that have to be paid by each party as part of the agreement.

The Monitor was the first to report on the Biden administration's possible sanctions waivers. The Office of Foreign Assets Control waiver on all sanctions for the areas outside the Syrian regime’s control will not cover oil and gas, it said citing sources.

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