The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wife and dozens of others as it vowed a vast pressure campaign under a new law that has already rattled the war-torn nation’s economy.
“We anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
He called the sanctions “the beginning of what will be a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure to deny the Assad regime revenue and support it uses to wage war and commit mass atrocities against the Syrian people.”
Pompeo was announcing the coming into force of the Caesar Act, which punishes any companies that work with Assad and has already led the Syrian currency to plummet in value.
The first batch of designations target 39 people or entities, including Assad personally as well as his wife Asma — the first time she has been targeted by US sanctions.
Under the law, any assets in the United States will be frozen. President Assad has been under US sanctions since he began to crush an uprising in 2011.
Born in Britain to a cardiologist father and diplomat mother, Asma al-Assad is a former investment banker who had styled herself as a progressive reformer and modern face of the Assads.
But Pompeo in his statement charged that Asma al-Assad, with the support of her husband and her own Akhras family, “has become one of Syria’s most notorious war profiteers.”
Effects felt in Syria
Others designated under the Caesar Act include Mohammed Hamsho, one of Syria’s most prominent businesspeople, and the Fatemiyoun, an Iranian-led division of Afghan Shiite Muslims that has been deployed to prop up Assad.
Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has succeeded in winning back virtually all of Syria except the Idlib area after a war that has killed more than 380,000 people.
The Caesar Act, passed by the US Congress last year with bipartisan support, seeks to prevent Assad’s normalization without accountability for human rights abuses.
It penalizes in the United States any company that deals with Assad and blocks reconstruction assistance from Washington.
Syria’s central bank on Wednesday devalued the pound after the currency depreciated for weeks on the black market in anticipation of the law.
Pompeo said the goal was to force Assad into accepting Security Council Resolution 2254 of 2015 — which called for a ceasefire, elections and political transition in Syria.
A UN-driven process has made no headway, with Assad last year launching a major offensive backed by Russian airpower to retake Idlib.
Pompeo said the United States was undertaking the pressure campaign “in full cooperation with other like-minded countries.”
The European Union has imposed its own sanctions over Syria and a French court separately on Wednesday convicted an uncle of Bashar al-Assad over money-laundering and misappropriation of government funds.
The Caesar Act is named after a former Syrian military photographer who fled at great personal risk in 2014 with 55,000 images of brutality in Assad’s jails.