By Syrian Democratic Times
US State Department officials went on a campaign over the past two weeks in order to influence public opinion on the Caesar Act, a new US law that imposes harsh economic sanctions on the Syrian government and anyone who does business with it. In a series of online briefings, webinars, and virtual events, Ambassador James Jeffrey and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs Joel Rayburn stated the US position on the goals of the Caesar Act and how it is impacting the people of Syria.
Jeffrey and Rayburn attributed the economic hardship currently being experienced by the crash of the Syrian pound to other factors, not the looming Caesar Act implementation. The crash of the Syrian pound “cannot be blamed on the sanctions,” said Jeffrey at a webinar hosted on June 23, 2020 by the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.
None of the panelists addressed the impact of the Caesar Act on North and East Syria, US allies and participants in the US-State-Department-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Jeffrey mentioned the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as one of eight allies involved in Syrian affairs.
“We have about eight international and Syrian allies in what we consider our overall coalition,” stated Jeffrey, at an online briefing hosted on June 18, 2020 by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. He then listed the Syrian opposition in Idlib and the SDF as two examples of the allies he was referring to.
In the official US State Department press briefing on the Caesar Act on June 17, 2020, Jeffrey was posed a direct question about whether commerce between the Syrian government and businesspersons in North and East Syria would fall under the new sanctions law. Jeffrey responded by re-stating the broad purpose of the sanctions, saying that the sanctions will apply to “individuals and entities” with “certain activities and relationships.”
Both Jeffrey and Rayburn emphasized many times that the ideal solution to the Syrian conflict would arrive through the United National Security Council Resolution 2254 peace talks. Neither mentioned the exclusion of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) from the UNSCR 2254 talks.
UNSCR 2254 is a resolution “that respects the will of the Syrian people,” said Rayburn, speaking at an online event on June 19, 2020, organized by the Caesar File Collection Group.
Jeffrey indicated that the Caesar Act sanctions were part of “Plan C” that the US government sees as a possible scenario. Jeffrey listed the three possible scenarios as Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Plan A, he said, would be that the Syrian government participates fully with UNSCR 2254. Plan B would mean that the Syrian government somehow wins a military victory, and is welcomed again into the international community. Plan C is the “maximum pressure” campaign, to pressure the Syrian government to stop committing human rights violations and participate in UN-sanctioned peace talks.
The Caesar Act applies a wide variety of economic sanctions on the Syrian government led by Assad, any of its supporters, and any entity that does business with Assad. This includes not only the corrupt businessmen in Assad’s inner circle, but anyone outside Syria doing business with them. Speaking of those doing business with Assad, Jeffrey said, “we want them to know that there is no financial future… not at least in the world they want to plug into, which is the international world.” Giving examples, Jeffrey said, “candlelit dinners in Paris, trips to Disneyworld — that’s all off.”
The crash of the Syrian pound immediately preceded the implementation of the Act, as the international finance community divested from the Syrian currency. This is leading to increased hardship among the Syrian people who cannot now afford food. The AANES has initiated measures to assist the people of North and East Syria, such as increasing the salaries of AANES employees, creating an economic crisis group to monitor the situation, educating people on import substitution and production of household goods, and being prepared to set prices of household goods in the marketplace when necessary.
The sanctions are not likely to end anytime soon, according to Jeffrey and Rayburn. Both officials underscored that the sanctions were passed nearly unanimously by both Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress. This means that the upcoming US elections will not affect the sanctions. There are specific conditions that the Syrian government must meet in order for the sanctions to be lifted, including full participation with the UNSCR 2254 talks, compliance with its provisions, and stopping the human rights violations being committed against the Syrian people.
“We don’t intend to stop until there is a just resolution for the Syrian people,” said Rayburn. In the meantime, these economic sanctions and the hardship they have brought will be the new reality for the people of Syria.