Obama Administration Freezes U.S. Assets of Syria Foreign Minister

U.S. sanctions come in response to Syria's increasingly violent crackdown against anti-Assad protesters.

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The Obama administration froze the U.S. assets of Syria's foreign minister and two other senior officials on Tuesday in response to Syria's increasingly violent crackdown against anti-government protesters.

Along with Foreign Minister Walid Moualem, the Treasury Department action targets Bouthaina Shaaban, a top political adviser and spokeswoman for Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem during a news conference in Damascus on February 3, 2010.Credit: Reuters

The move comes as the United States, the European Union and some of Syria's neighbors seek to ratchet up pressure on Assad, who has responded to the demonstrations with lethal military force and detentions.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Aug. 18 called on Assad to leave power.

"We are are bringing additional pressure to bear today directly on three senior Assad regime officials who are principal defenders of the regime's activities," David Cohen, Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial Intelligence, said in a statement.
The order freezes assets that the three officials have that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibits U.S. people from engaging in transactions with them.

Treasury's action was the seventh time since April that the U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Syria. Previous rounds have targeted Assad and other top aides; Syria's security forces; and Syrian state-owned banks and the energy sector.

Neither the Syrian leader nor the protesters have shown signs of backing down. Four demonstrators were shot dead in southern Syria on Tuesday after prayers marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, residents and activists said.

Moualem, a former ambassador to Washington, had been widely seen as a moderate within Assad's Cabinet.

Shaaban, one of the few women in prominent positions in the Syrian government, in the past has appeared at Washington events to defend Damascus' viewpoint. Once anti-government protests broke out in the spring, she articulated the Assad government's public response.



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