Dec. 22 (UPI) -- The Trump administration on Tuesday imposed sanctions targeting the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad by blacklisting the nation's central bank and his wife, among others.
The sanctions were leveled nearly on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump signing into law legislation that allows for economic sanctions to be imposed against the regime and the five-year anniversary of the U.N. Security Council's adopting Resolution 2254 that endorsed a roadmap for peace in the war-torn Middle Eastern country.
Syria has been in turmoil since 2011 when Assad brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protests, igniting a civil war. Since then, more than 5 million Syrians have to fled the country, 6 million have been internally displaced and some 13 million more are in need of assistance, according to the Untied Nations.
"The Assad regime, supported by its enablers and allies, however, refuses to end its needless, brutal war against the Syrian people, stalling efforts to reach a political resolution," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
In December 2019, Trump signed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act allowing for punitive economic sanctions to be imposed against those who support the Assad regime, which went into effect in June when the United States blacklisted dozens connected to the government.
Joel Rayburn, the State Department's special representative for Syria Engagement, told reporters during a special telephone briefing that the United States sanctioned 18 more individuals and entities on Tuesday, including the Central Bank of Syria and Asma al-Assad, the president's wife who was previously sanctioned in June.
"These individuals and corrupt businesses are impeding efforts to reach a political and peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict, as called for by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254," said Rayburn. "Today's sanctions demonstrate our resolve to curtail the ability of pro-regime entities and financiers from using their positions to perpetuate Bashar al-Assad's futile and brutal war."
Pompeo accused Asma al-Assad of having "spearheaded efforts" to consolidate economic and political power for the regime, including through the use of her charities and civil society organizations.
Several of her immediate family members were also hit with sanctions by the State Department on Tuesday for having "accumulated their ill-gotten riches at the expense of the Syrian people through their control over an extensive, illicit network with links in Europe, the Gulf and elsewhere," Pompeo said.
Asma al-Assad and her immediate family all reside in Britain, State Department officials said.
The Treasury said Tuesday it also sanctioned two high-ranking government officials, nine businesses and the central bank to discourage future investment in government-controlled areas of Syria, to force the regime to end the violence and to compel it to abide by the U.N. resolution, which calls for a transition to a democratic government.
Lina Mohammed Nazir al-Kinayeh, one of Assad's key advisers for over a decade, was hit with Treasury sanctions as was her husband, Mohammed Hammam Mohammed Adnan Masouti, who represents the Damascus electoral district as a member of parliament. Of the nine companies sanctioned by the Treasury four were either owned or controlled by the couple.
The Treasury has previously accused Assad and his supporters of funneling resources into building luxury real estate on land expropriated from displaced Syrians.
The State Department also designated commander of Syrian military Intelligence Gen. Kifah Moulhem, whom Rayburn descried as "one of the architects of the Syrian people's suffering."
Rayburn told reporters that the sanctions regime against Assad was working, stating the Syrian government has no answer to those imposed following the enactment of the Caesar Act.
"Don't underestimate the power of economic pressure combined with political isolation. This, over time, can have a very severe effect," he said, adding that he expects in the coming months to see the sanctions having greater constraint on the regime "and ultimately compelling them to come to a political solution and to discard their quest for a military conquest."
He said the Assad regime and its allies were weakening and that the United States and its allies must remain committed to the pressure campaign.
"I am optimistic that the regime and its allies have thrown their best punch and they were not able to knock out the rest of us," he said. "We're still standing and we're gaining strength over time."
Asked if he thinks the strategy will change under the Biden administration, Rayburn replied that it isn't a Trump administration policy but a United States policy to see the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria and to see a political solution to the conflict.
"I don't think you're going to see a discarding of those goals," he said. "I think you can count on the United States as well as the other like-minded countries to continue seeking those goals regardless of who is in the White House."