Kurdish Authorities in Syria Hope for U.S. Sanctions Exemption Amid Economic Woes

The U.S.'s toughest-ever sanctions targeting Assad aim to force him back to United Nations-led negotiations, but without exemptions, regional administrations worry of an increased 'economic siege'

Reuters
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Internally displaced Syrians are seen in an IDP camp in a sports stadium in Idlib, Syria February 27, 2020.
Internally displaced Syrians are seen in an IDP camp in a sports stadium in Idlib, Syria February 27, 2020. Credit: UMIT BEKTAS/ REUTERS
Reuters

Kurdish-led authorities in northeastern Syria are in talks with their military allies in a U.S.-led coalition over a promised exemption from U.S. sanctions targeting the Syrian government, a senior Kurdish official said.

Washington says the sanctions, which took effect last week, mark the start of a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop the war and agree to a political solution.

The U.S.-led coalition did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from Reuters.

Northeastern Syria is controlled by Kurdish-led militia who have helped the U.S.-led coalition fight Islamic State, driving the jihadists out of swathes of Syrian territory.

Badran Jia Kurd, a vice president of the regional administration, said the sanctions would have an impact on his area which trades with government-held Syria via local merchants and uses the Syrian pound, which has plunged in value.

A picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad is seen on a door of a butcher shop  in Damascus, Syria, April 22, 2020.
A picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad is seen on a door of a butcher shop in Damascus, Syria, April 22, 2020. Credit: Yamam Al Shaar/ REUTERS

"They will lead to increase in prices to a very great degree and to weakness in trade activity with the Syrian interior, while on the other hand crossings to Iraq are closed, meaning the region was already living an economic siege," Jia Kurd said.

"They told us the self-administration regions will be exempt from the Caesar sanctions but the mechanisms and means to achieve this exemption are being discussed with the international coalition."

The sanctions are named after a Syrian military photographer who smuggled thousands of photos out of Syria showing mass killings, torture and other crimes.

The fresh round of sanctions the United States imposed are the toughest ever targeting President Assad, and they aim to choke off revenue for his government in a bid to force it back to United Nations-led negotiations and broker an end to the country's nearly decade-long war.

The sanctions on Syria penalize 39 companies and individuals, including Assad and his wife Asma, whom along with her family Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described as "one of Syria's most notorious war profiteers." The new sanctions also allow for the freezing of assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality.

Badran Jia Kurd, top Kurdish official, talks during an interview with Reuters in Qamishli, Syria March 11, 2019.
Badran Jia Kurd, top Kurdish official, talks during an interview with Reuters in Qamishli, Syria March 11, 2019.Credit: Issam Abdallah/ REUTERS

"We hope there will be international support for our regions given that they are fighting a continuing war against global terrorism," Jia Kurd wrote.

The coalition has said the sanctions do not impede humanitarian assistance or hinder "coalition stabilization activities in northeast Syria."

The new travel restrictions and financial sanctions strike Assad at a time when the Syrian leader is grappling with a deepening economic crisis after a decade of war and amid a rare outbreak of protests in government-held areas.

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