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Monday, May 27, 2024

US legislators to combat the normalization of Assad

United States Capitol Building; Credit: DRNADIG

In a move that comes shortly after Arab leaders ended years of apparent antagonism with the head of the Assad regime by admitting it back into the Arab League, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers introduced a legislation on Thursday, May 11, titled the Assad Anti-Normalization Act for the purpose of holding the regime, and its backers, accountable for their crimes against the Syrian people and deterring normalization with it.

The specifics of the bill were outlined in a press release from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday saying that this legislation would:

(1) Require an annual strategy for five years to counter normalization with the Assad regime by countries that have taken steps to normalize with the Assad regime.

(2) Prohibit any federal government department or agency from recognizing or normalizing with any government in Syria led by Bashar al-Assad.

(3) Require an immediate review for Caesar Act sanctions for any grants of $50,000 or more to Syria.

(4) Require a report as to United Nations assistance that has gone to Syria which has gone to the benefit of the Assad regime.

(5) Expand the Caesar Act by plugging loopholes in the original bill which made it hard to enforce. It would also expand Caesar Act sanctions to those involved in diverting and stealing humanitarian assistance meant for the people of Syria and those involved in stealing the property of the Syrian people for political reasons or personal gain.

(6) Sanction the members of Syria’s People’s Assembly and their immediate family members, as well as those who provide them with support, along with senior officials of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party in Syria.

(7) Clarify the applicability of current sanctions to Syrian regime airlines, and to energy transactions – sending a clear sign to countries normalizing with Assad which are considering allowing Syrian regime airlines to land in their airports.

(8) Determine whether or not Asma al-Assad’s charity the Syria Trust for Development meets the criteria for sanctions under the Caesar Act.

(9) Allow the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to request a review of any names for Caesar Act sanctions which the President would be required to consider within 30 days.

“I am proud to join my colleagues in mandating 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”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)

“Assad, and his Russian and Iranian backers, continue to commit horrific acts against the Syrian people and undermine regional security,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) after the introduction of the bill. “They must be held accountable for these crimes, not welcomed back unconditionally by the international community. The United States must use all of our leverage to stop normalization with Assad. I am proud to join my colleagues in mandating 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.”

“Countries choosing to normalize with (the) unrepentant mass murderer and drug trafficker, Bashar al-Assad, are headed down the wrong path,” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia told Reuters.

Wilson and McCaul were co-sponsors of the bill along with Rep. French Hill (R-AS), Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Rep. Carlos Giménez (R-FL), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), and Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX).

A senior congressional staffer who worked on the measure told Reuters that the bill is a warning to countries who wish to cooperate with the Assad regime that they may face serious consequences. Assad has already been invited to attend the Arab Summit later this month in Saudi Arabia which he views as a milestone in his efforts to achieve regional rehabilitation.

“The Arab League’s recognition should not deter the U.S. government from its obligation to sanction Assad in our efforts to dismantle the trafficking and production of Captagon and hold him accountable for his egregious war crimes”

Rep. French Hill (R-AS)

“Syria’s readmittance to the Arab League signals to Assad that his barbaric behavior is acceptable –these steps towards normalization are reckless,” said Rep. Hill. “The Arab League’s recognition should not deter the U.S. government from its obligation to sanction Assad in our efforts to dismantle the trafficking and production of Captagon and hold him accountable for his egregious war crimes.”

The bill also requires the US Secretary of State to come up with an annual strategy for the next five years to counter normalization with the Assad regime by other countries that are taking steps in that direction including Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and others.

“The United States and our allies have stood together in opposing Bashar al-Assad’s barbaric regime for more than a decade now,” said Rep. Boyle. “If countries in the region are ready to look past the numerous documented criminal acts that were committed in Syria, then the United States must set the example and use its diplomatic strength to counter these misguided steps. Assad and his backers in Russia and Iran have not shown any reason that would justify normalizing relations with a government that is responsible for over 600,000 men, women, and children being murdered. This legislation is a great next step of making the position of Congress clear.”

“Assad is a war criminal whose ongoing atrocities should be condemned, not normalized”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

In addition, the bill seeks to clarify the sanctions already imposed on Cham Wings and Syrian Arab Airlines and extend them to include countries that allow these Syrian airlines to land in their airports as a clear message to Arab League members.

“Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal whose ongoing atrocities should be condemned, not normalized,” said Rep. Cohen. “I am disappointed in the Arab League’s decision to recognize his barbarous regime. The Syrian people have suffered enough and deserve new leadership.”

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