US suspends sanctions imposed on Syria: Dispelling the regime's allegations or retracting the sanctions?
On February 9, 2023,Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Syria General License (GL) 23, which authorizes for 180 days all transactions related to earthquake relief that would be otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations (SySR).
The exemption came two days after the State Department stated that the US sanctions issued against Syria include exceptions that include humanitarian and medical aid. As such, the new license includes transactions to and from Syria, without imposing any banking or financial obstacles on them.
However, it is expected that the license issued by the United States to temporarily ease its sanctions on any transactions came as a response to UN statements made by United Nations officials, as well as the demands made by some humanitarian institutions that the sanctions should not hinder any relief and rescue efforts in Syria.
The Syrian regime has demanded Western countries to lift sanctions imposed on it, claiming that sanctions as such impede relief and rescue efforts. Such claims are often repeated at every crisis the regime faces, as it made the same calls in 2020 after the outbreak of the "Covid-19" virus. Despite the United States lifted some sanctions at that time, nothing changed in the rescue and medical efforts as for the Syrian people, as the regime transferred most of the gains obtained during the outbreak of COVID-19 to either use them in military hospitals and fighting fronts, or they were stolen by the regime’s top officials.
In fact, the sanctions do not prevent delivering aid; as the regime received more than 40 aid planes containing rescue equipment, medical supplies, and foodstuffs, in addition to a number of rescue teams after the earthquake. It also received cars with foodstuffs, fuel, and others from Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. Likewise, a number of international and local organizations are already operating within regime-controlled areas, and receive aid periodically, which are able to transfer and receive funds without international obstacles, before and after the earthquake.
Moreover, delivering food and medical supplies, money transfers, and making payments are available and can be done by the Syrian regime. It is even done in the case of goods that are subject to sanctions with countries such as China, Russia, and Iran; especially since these countries do not abide by any sanctions against the Syrian regime.
These facts confirm that the regime has not reached its goal of demanding the lifting of sanctions. Furthermore, the recent US exemptions do not mean that the trend is to re-normalise relations with the regime at all. In fact, the US tries to expose true reality of the regime and its allies, challenge their claims, and hold them legally liable for failing to respond to help the affected people.