President Obama issued an executive order on Wednesday imposing sanctions against several members of the Syrian regime, including President Bashar al-Assad, for human rights abuses. The order comes as the Syrian government continues an unrelenting crackdown on protesters.
Obama wrote that he issued the directive "in order to take additional steps with respect to the Government of Syria's continuing escalation of violence against the people of Syria -- including through attacks on protesters, arrests and harassment of protesters and political activists, and repression of democratic change, overseen and executed by numerous elements of the Syrian government."
The order effectively prohibits any business dealings between anyone in the U.S. and the members of the regime targeted by the sanctions: Assad, Vice President Farouk al-Shara, Prime Minister Adel Safar, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar, Defense Minister Ali Habib Mahmoud, Military Intelligence chief Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, and Political Security Director Mohammed Dib Zaitoun.
Although there are a number of U.S. sanctions in place against the Syrian regime, these are the first that specifically target Assad. Obama issued a similar set of sanctions at the end of April that targeted several of Assad's family members. As with the previous directive, this executive order builds upon a May 2004 executive order that declared actions of the Syrian government a threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy, and the economy.
The sanctions may not have much effect. The U.S. does not hold significant Syrian assets, as it has long had a fraught relationship with the country. But it's possible the move will set a precedent for a similar freeze in European countries, where Syrian officials have more holdings.
Although receiving questions almost daily from the press, the White House has not taken action against the regime since the previous sanctions, and the prospects of an escalation of Western action seemed bleak earlier this month. But on Tuesday, both White House press secretary Jay Carney and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton indicated further sanctions were forthcoming.
Obama also sent a letter to the House Speaker and the Senate president informing him of the actions. The order took effect at 1:00 p.m.