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Obama Orders Targeted Sanctions Against Syrian Officials Obama Orders Targeted Sanctions Against Syrian Officials

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National Security

Obama Orders Targeted Sanctions Against Syrian Officials


A protester burns a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration after Friday prayers in Istanbul. Due to the crackdown, journalists reporting from Syria faced difficulty getting images out of the country.(BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues his violent crackdown on protesters, President Obama signed an executive order on Friday afternoon blocking transfer of the assets of high-level officials in Syria.

According to Obama’s directive—which builds upon a May 2004 executive order that declared the actions of the Syrian government a threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy, and the economy—the Treasury and State departments have been charged to block the property and interests of any officials who were connected to the human rights abuses. While the order does not target Assad himself, it does place sanctions on several of his family members. 


Already, there are a number of U.S. sanctions in place against the Syrian regime, although none of them specifically sanction Assad.

The U.S. does not hold significant Syrian assets, as it has long had a fraught relationship with the country, but the move is expected to set the precedent for a similar freeze in European countries, where Syrian officials have more holdings.

The order took effect at 1 p.m. EDT Friday. Obama also sent a letter to the House speaker and Senate president informing them of his actions.


According to the White House, the list of officials who will be targeted by the sanctions include Mahir al-Assad, an Army commander and a brother of Assad; and Atif Najib, a cousin of Assad and head of the Political Security Directorate for Dar’a Province. Last month Syrian security forces killed protesters there. Also sanctioned were Ali Mamluk, director of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, members of the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Quds Force, for providing support to the Syrian government in its crackdown. 

Iran’s Quds force, already under U.S. sanctions for its role in supporting militant groups around the world, is believed to be a “conduit for support” from Tehran to Assad’s regime to stomp out the civil uprising, according to Reuters.

“The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government’s continued use of violence and intimidation against the Syrian people,” the White House 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 are the latest tactic to pressure embattled regimes who have chosen to violently put down protests threatening autocratic rule. In late February, the Treasury Department froze more than $33 billion in Libyan assets, a precursor to a U.N. resolution authorizing sanctions and later military action in the country.


Also on Friday, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the violence in Syria and the government’s human rights abuses. The resolution, sponsored by the United States, expresses “grave concern with respect to alleged deliberate killings, arrests, and instances of torture of peaceful protesters by the Syrian authorities,” and “unequivocally condemns the use of lethal violence against peaceful protestors by the Syrian authorities.”

“With today’s vote, the Council has stood against attempts to silence dissent with the use of gratuitous violence, which is not the act of a responsible government,” Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said in a statement. The resolution “sets an important precedent,” Rice continued. “The United States will continue to stand up for democracy and respect for universal rights that all human beings deserve—in Syria and throughout the world.”

The resolution, which was approved by 26 of the 47-member body during a special session in Geneva, Switzerland, calls for a U.N. mission to investigate violations of international human rights law.


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