Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a bipartisan letter on Tuesday to President Joe Biden urging him to maintain America’s tough stance on Syria.
The letter asked the Biden administration to “reinforce” the longstanding U.S. policy that Syrian President Basher Assad’s regime – given its war crimes – should not be welcomed back into the international community. This comes after several U.S. Arab partners have reestablished their connections with Syria, including the United Arab Emirates.
“We are concerned that a number of our Arab partners continue to increase their formal and informal relationships with the Assad regime, including the establishment of formal diplomatic outposts and publicly released diplomatic overtures,” the letter states.
James E. Risch, Robert Menendez, Michael T. McCaul and Gregory W. Meeks authored the letter which calls for “consequences” for those nations who seek to rehabilitate the Assad regime.
In fact, the congressmen are concerned by a lack of clear policy on Syria stemming from the White House.
“I don’t know what the administration’s Syria policy is. And I say that as a criticism,” Menendez (D-N.J.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said last month.
Risch (R-Idaho) said the administration “seems to be turning a blind eye as our Arab partners push to normalize relations with the regime and pursue energy arrangements in contravention of U.S. law.”
The letter also urged the Biden administration to “utilize the robust, mandatory deterrence mechanisms in the bipartisan Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act to maintain the Assad regime’s isolation.”
The Caesar Act is an American law that came into effect in the summer of 2020 and calls for sanctions to achieve “progress on the release of political prisoners, an end to the use of Syrian airspace for attacks against civilians, unfettered humanitarian access, and compliance with the prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons, and accountability for war crimes.”
The letter encourages the U.S. to take the lead on pushing for progress in these areas, especially given the failure of United Nations-led political negotiations.
In addition, the authors call for Biden to announce a strategy to prevent the Assad regime’s continued theft of humanitarian aid through distorted exchange rates. According to the letter, the regime stole at least $100 million in humanitarian aid in just two years.
“The Syrian government makes international aid agencies use a distorted exchange rate, which allowed it to divert nearly 51 cents of every international aid dollar spent in Syria in 2020,” according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That money propped up the Central Bank of Syria – an institution sanctioned by the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom – with foreign reserves. UN bodies do not have to adhere to Western sanctions. But humanitarian aid is meant to reach people in need, not the government.”
The letter also calls on the Biden administration to seek to end the Assad regime’s trade in Captagon – a drug used as an alternative to amphetamine and methamphetamine used to treat ADHS – which gives it access to illicit funds.
“Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multibillion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate,” the New York Times wrote in December. “Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.”
The authors end the letter with an appeal to the Biden administration to follow a policy that is consistent with US values, recalling that when Biden became president, Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised that the administration would “restore US leadership on humanitarian issues in [Syria]” and that a “broader diplomatic strategy” is needed to resolve the civil war.
“This important letter from bipartisan Congressional leaders should clear up some of the confusion that has reigned in the past year re: US policy on Syria. Congress is saying unequivocally its tough position toward Assad hasn’t changed an iota. Other countries should take note!” Joel Rayburn, former U.S. Special Envoy for Syria, tweeted on Wednesday.