By Ali Najafi

Did the U.S. lift sanctions on Syria? 

February 13, 2023 - 22:42

TEHRAN- In true Hollywood style, the U.S. claims it has eased sanctions on Syria, but it didn't and this is not Hollywood. This is a natural disaster with bodies stuck under the rubble. 

The U.S. administration would not have issued its so-called license 23 to supposedly ease the sanctions on Syria, had it not been for the increasing international pressure on Washington to end its sanctions on the Arab country. 

As pressure mounted on the U.S. to allow humanitarian aid to flow into the country following the huge deadly earthquake that hit regions in southern Turkey and northern Syria, Washington was forced to change its tact.

The irony is of course that after the earthquake struck, the U.S. State Department strongly hit back at what it described as inaccurate press reports about U.S. sanctions impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians impacted by the devastating natural disaster.

"Any U.S. or international sanctions include humanitarian, medical, food, and other aid exemptions. U.S. President Joe Biden was clear when he said the U.S. was prepared to provide any and all types of aid to the people of Syria, and the U.S. is not preventing any countries from doing so," a State Department official said in a video posted on social media.

“The United States stands by the Syrian people,” another State Department official, this time speaking in Arabic. It claimed in a second video posted on social media that also pretty much repeated the first statement in a bid to please the Arab world.

After all the publicity that the U.S. sanctions are not hampering aid and rescue efforts, it was clear the international community was not buying it.

Amid an increasingly popular global campaign to end the sanctions on Damascus, the U.S. Treasury Department issued 'Syria General License 23' to try and end the international media attention. 

Now headlines read:

"U.S. announces 180-day exemption to Syria sanctions for disaster aid"


"U.S. Exempts Earthquake Aid to Syria From Sanctions"

Has anyone questioned why the U.S. has supposedly exempted sanctions for aid to Syria after it had strongly proclaimed that humanitarian, medical, food, and other aid are exempt from any U.S. sanctions? 

Apparently not. 

In any case, the Treasury Department hasn't ended the sanctions on Syria but did a great job in twisting the headlines and still managed to embarrass itself over its military occupation of the country as well as its violation of Syria's sovereignty. 

The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of the Treasury issued General License No 23, aka GL23, which suspends the ban on certain transactions related to Syria for six months (until August 8, 2023).

License 23 states that the money transferor bears the responsibility to prove the connection of its transfer to the seismic relief efforts, and the license exempts U.S. financial institutions and exchange companies from the responsibility to prove the transfer’s connection to the earthquake relief efforts unless they know in advance, or “have reason to know” (so literally), that they are not connected to it.

If anything Washington has made it more complicated to make financial transactions to facilitate aid efforts in Syria by maintaining that fear factor of facing punishment if you don't provide evidence the money is heading for the quake relief efforts. 

Lifting the ban on transferring funds to Syria for the purpose of financing seismic relief efforts does not apply to the Syrian state or any of its institutions or branches, including the Syrian Central Bank, and does not apply to any company or association controlled by the Syrian state, directly or indirectly, inside and outside Syria.  

It also does not apply to any person working for any of these entities.

Finally, License 23 does not exempt anyone from compliance with any other relevant U.S. federal law.

The press release posted in conjunction with License 23 on the U.S. Treasury website states that it is a continuation of its policy of easing “humanitarian sanctions” for the United Nations, NGOs, and the U.S. government to engage in financial transactions in support of certain non-profit activities (i.e. not all) in Syria.

The same press release goes on to say that the U.S. Treasury Department will continue to monitor the situation in Syria, and will continue to engage with key humanitarian and disaster relief actors, including NGOs, international organizations, and key partners and allies, to "understand the key challenges they may face in providing services" in Syria.

The funny thing is that License 23 confirms the ban on importing Syrian oil into the United States of America, except with a special permit, according to Section 542.208 of the sanctions regime against Syria.

This is funny, of course, because the United States and its proxies control 90% of the Syrian oil wells, most of which are shipped to northern Iraq, where they are sold at low prices, sometimes as low as $15 per barrel, then refined and used locally, or mixed with oil there to be bought by some regional countries.  

Others are exported to different destinations, including the Zionist regime of Israel. 

The eastern region of Syria, which is under the U.S. occupation, is where the Syrian soil is stolen.

What does the U.S. administration want to gain from issuing License No. 23?

Hollywood films are the product of American mentality. The basics of Hollywood is in the image and impression it presents, and making the incredible believable by manipulation.  

Likewise, the expected media and political impact of the issuance of License No. 23 is much more important than its actual economic and financial impact.

License 23, firstly, is directed at international and American institutions, their affiliated non-governmental organizations, and U.S. allies in the region.  

It excludes everything related to the Syrian state and its institutions and companies from exempting the transfer of funds for relief purposes, especially the Central Bank of Syria.  

So any earthquake relief effort must take place away from the Syrian state. In other words, it must contribute to undermining the sovereignty of the Syrian state, or it will not take place.

License 23, secondly, is partial, specific and temporary. It does not drop a system of accumulated sanctions that deprive Syria of medical equipment and machinery, which allows Syria to carry out real relief work, foremost of which are the main pillars of the "Caesar" law that targets the oil and gas sectors, reconstruction and aviation in Syria.  

It is important to note that sanctions have been imposed on the Central Bank of Syria since 2004, which effectively removed the country from the international financial system. 

Thirdly, License 23, which claims that humanitarian materials are not subject to U.S. sanctions, contradicts a new U.S. penal code, the 'Captagon' law, the implementation of which will be announced in June, and will directly threaten the Syrian pharmaceutical sector.

However, License 23, fourthly, represents an attempt to absorb the mounting popular pressure after the earthquake to lift the siege on Syria, which is a hostile blockade, not just sanctions. 

It is nothing but a shabby media attempt to preserve the face of the U.S. administration after its image of defending "human rights" was strongly shaken.

License 23, Fifthly, represents a way out for some Arab states that are effectively besieging Syria, even if the decision to enforce the sanctions and blockade was an American-Zionist one.

It accommodates regional and international pressure, after the earthquake, to lift sanctions on Syria, without the entire sanctions regime system collapsing.

In short, License 23 must be put in its proper place as an insult to the Syrians, Arabs, and all the free people of the world, as it is shameful that a small office located opposite the U.S. Treasury in Washington decides how 22 Arab nations and all countries of the world should treat Damascus.

However, License 23 did not lift the sanctions nor made the delivery of humanitarian aid any easier. 


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