Will the US Sanction Syria?

Numerous reports are emerging that the White House is considering imposing some type of sanctions on Syria or certain key individuals tied to the government of Bashar Al-Assad following the recent violence that has ensued in that country.  As the United States currently maintains fairly extensive sanctions on Syria, the question that remains is what can the U.S. government sanction – in other words, what form would the sanctions take?

The current sanctions regime in place against Syria comes largely in the forms of certain Executive Orders (EOs) signed by former President George W. Bush.   Most importantly, Executive Order 13338, signed into law in 2004, along with Executive Orders 13399 (2006) and 13460 (2008)  as well as the Syrian Sanctions Regulations, 31 CFR Part 542 (the “SSR”) place very strict limits on U.S.-Syrian trade.  Effectively, the only types of goods that can be exported are generally within the realm of informational materials, food, and medicine.  Furthermore, the sanctions regime has caused the blockage of assets and transactions related to many Syrian officials, in large part due to that country’s alleged support of terrorism and its activities in Lebanon.

Given the current limitations, what else is there left to sanction?   The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) could certainly add more Syrian entities to the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.  This could not only prevent these entities from transacting with the U.S., but it could also create problems for such entities in third countries, as banks and other commercial entities may use blocking software programs that integrate U.S. sanctions and other lists.   Furthermore, OFAC could impose transactions that substantially limit banking transactions for Syria, much as it did with Iran.  The banking sanctions on Iran have been very effective as they have caused difficulty even for Iranians doing business in third countries.

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