President Barack Obama today ordered a freeze on U.S. assets and other sanctions against three Syrian officials, including the brother and a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad, because of violence against anti-government protesters.
The sanctions also target the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate and the Quds Force of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for providing “material support” for the Syrian government’s crackdown on demonstrators. Separately, the European Union today also announced an arms embargo on Syria.
“The U.S. strongly condemns the Syrian government’s continued use of violence and intimidation against the Syrian people,” an administration statement that accompanied the executive order said. “We call upon the Syrian regime and its supporters to refrain from further acts of violence and other human rights abuses against Syrian citizens seeking to express their political aspirations.”
The sanctions widen an executive order issued by President George W. Bush in May 2004 and are aimed at Mahir al-Assad, brother of Syria’s president and brigade commander in the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division; Atif Najib, cousin of Assad and head of the Political Security Directorate for Daraa Province last month when protesters were killed by security forces; and Ali Mamluk, director of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate.
The order provides the U.S. with “new tools to target individuals and entities determined to have engaged in human rights abuses in Syria,” a White House fact sheet said.
Underscoring that message, the 27-nation European bloc said it would ‘urgently consider further appropriate and targeted measures’’ should the Assad regime not change course, according to a statement released by the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The Commerce Department revoked some licenses for the export and re-export to Syria of items needed for aircraft used to transport senior officials of the Syrian government, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a separate statement.
“Due to the commission of human rights abuses related to political repression in Syria, export and re-export of these items is deemed contrary” to U.S. foreign policy interests, Vietor said in an e-mail.
“The status quo in Syria is unacceptable,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement. “What is clear is that we need to increase the political and economic pressure so President Assad understands that he must end the violence and embrace reforms.”
United Nations Action
Adding to the pressure on Syria, the United Nations Human Rights Council today “unequivocally” condemned the crackdown and called for the UN human rights chief to send a team to investigate “all alleged violations of international human rights law.”
The 26-9 council vote endorsed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that denounced the use of lethal violence against protesters and urged the Syrian government to permit free expression and assembly, allow access to the Internet and other communications networks, lift censorship on reporting and release political prisoners.
In Washington, Jake Sullivan, the State Department’s director of policy planning, told reporters that “if they continue this violence, we have the flexibility to add additional sanctions.” He declined to say when further action might be taken.
Assad has failed to quell protests after pledging steps to meet activists’ demands and end a 48-year state of emergency. Syrians today took to the streets in such cities as Aleppo, Qamishli, Latakia, Homs and Deir al-Zour, defying warnings from the Interior Ministry not to hold demonstrations.
Obama has previously condemned Syria for its “outrageous use of violence” and has urged Assad to “change course now and heed the calls of his own people.”
Syria’s latest crackdown in the past week has led to more than 450 deaths since mid-March, according to the country’s National Organization for Human Rights.