The US placed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday for the first time since he took office. Now the EU may follow suit.
The significance of the US decision to impose unprecedented sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not so much a financial blow, but rather a clear signal that the West is no longer willing to wait for him to make good on his promises of reform.
Mr. Assad was one of seven senior Syrian officials listed Wednesday on an executive order that subjects them to financial sanctions “to increase pressure on the Government of Syria to end its use of violence against its people and begin transitioning into a democratic system that protects the rights of the Syrian people," the US Treasury Department said.
It is the first time the US has sanctioned the Syrian president personally since he took power 11 years ago, although the Bush administration sanctioned the regime as a whole in 2004.
The Syrian regime had already lost the sympathy of the European Union, which last week imposed sanctions on 13 regime figures – but not Assad himself. The White House's move, however, suggests he may be included in a new set of EU sanctions reportedly under discussion.
The imposition of financial sanctions is unlikely to make any difference to a regime that believes it is fighting an existential struggle, however. Analysts say that for the revolt in Syria to gain further traction, it requires the political and even logistical backing of the international community.
The Obama administration’s executive order against Assad could be followed in the coming days by the adoption of a draft United Nations Security Council resolution proposed by Britain, France, and Germany condemning Syria for its crackdown. Russia vetoed the resolution recently, but may reconsider if the international mood swings firmly against the Assad regime.