After supporting efforts to oust him, some of Washington’s Gulf allies have accepted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is here to stay and are working on restoring ties with Damascus. On Friday, a US official warned US allies against getting friendly with Assad and threatened sanctions.
Joey Hood, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said the US does “not intend to normalize” relations with Assad unless there is a “major change in behavior.” He said others that are “considering making moves” should think “very carefully” about it.
Hood’s comments come amid reports that Syria and Saudi Arabia are working towards normalizing relations. The UAE has already restored ties with Assad and reopened its embassy in Syria in 2018.
Hood brought up the Caesar Act, which enables the US to impose sanctions on anyone who is doing business with the Syrian government, and suggested Washington’s Arab allies could be targeted.
“And I would also, of course, add that we also have the Caesar Act sanctions. This is a law that has wide bipartisan support in the Congress, and the administration is going to follow the law on that. And so governments and businesses need to be careful that their proposed or envisioned transactions don’t expose them to potential sanctions from the United States under that act,” he said.
US sanctions under the Caesar Act purposely target Syria’s construction and energy sectors, preventing the country from rebuilding after 10 years of war. The crushing sanctions have had a devastating impact on Syria’s civilian population, and the Biden administration seems determined to keep them in place.