US lawmakers threaten sanctions for Syria rapprochement

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A bipartisan group of US congressmen has submitted legislation against Syria’s restoration of relations with other countries. This month, the Arab League reinstated the country, and Saudi Arabia announced the reopening of embassies with Syria.

According to a news statement from the office of US Representative Joe Wilson, the document’s major sponsor, the Assad Anti-Normalization Act threatens “governments considering normalization with the Assad regime” with dire consequences.

Over a decade ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime faced enormous protests and an armed insurrection. The United States and its allies accused Damascus of crimes against humanity and supported anti-government forces by transferring weapons to terrorist groups, among other things. Some of the weapons found their way into the hands of blatant jihadists.

With the assistance of Russia and Iran, the Syrian government turned the tide of the fight against militant groups that had taken over vast areas of Syrian land, and is now in control of the majority of the country. Despite Damascus’ concerns, the US currently has a military base in the east and supports Kurdish troops that control fertile and oil-rich areas of Syria.

After the opposition failed to depose Assad, Washington imposed harsh economic sanctions, which opponents argue hamper Syria’s rehabilitation efforts. The new legislation aims to strengthen the penalties. It targets foreign airports that receive Syrian jets, aims to crack down on first lady Asma Assad’s foundation, and subjected gifts of $50,000 or more to Syria from governments in the region to sanctions review.

“The United States must use all of our leverage to stop normalization with Assad,” said Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul of the new bill, which he co-sponsored. It calls for “further sanctions against any form of investment in territory under the control of the Assad regime, as we remain committed to ensuring the Syrian people receive justice.”

In response to the Arab League’s reengagement with Syria, the measure directs the Department of State to monitor and report to Congress on all diplomatic interactions between Damascus and specific governments. Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other countries are on the list. Under the proposed legislation, the US administration would be obligated to adopt a strategy to fight Syria’s rapprochement for at least five years.

The MPs also want to be kept up to date on Damascus’ “manipulation of the UN,” alluding to the conditions under which UN humanitarian aid programs assisting Syrians work.