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Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act Passes the House

Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act Passes the House

The Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives on February 14, 2023, and is now being considered by the Senate, which appears likely to pass the legislation. The bill aims to extend the length and breadth of the 2019 Caeser Act, which is set to expire in December 2024. If not extended, sanctions against the Syrian government and affiliated entities that were authorized under the Act will expire. Additionally, this new legislation includes provisions intended to block efforts to normalize relations with Syria. This includes the authority to sanction a wide variety of entities and individuals that are working with the Syrian government. However, the changes made in the bill do not represent a major change to U.S. policy in Syria.

The new bill would extend the existing authorities under Caesar Act until December 31, 2032, while also expanding the actions that can trigger U.S. sanctions. Newly added offenses include participating or benefiting from the diversion of humanitarian aid and engaging, directly or indirectly, with attempts to seize Syrian property owned by Syrian citizens. It also authorizes sanctions against more individuals engaged with the Syrian government, including all members of the legislature, all senior officials of the Ba’ath party, and family members of those sanctioned if they have not sufficiently distanced themselves. The bill also requires that the U.S. determine whether the Syria Trust for Development, the nonprofit chaired by Asma al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria, should be sanctioned under the Act.

The Act also prohibits the recognition of the Syrian government by the United States and lays out an interagency strategy to counter normalization. The Executive branch is required to report to Congress on key measures of normalization, including diplomatic meetings held between Syria and other Arab nations. Finally, the bill mandates an interagency report analyzing attempts by the Al Assad government to manipulate the United Nations, investigating how aid access has been restricted, how the Syrian government has influenced UN hiring and procurement practices to favor those with government ties, and how the government has taken advantage of exchange rates to extract UN funding.

While reemphasizing the U.S.’s anti-normalization stance is valuable, the bill represents little change from current U.S. policy. The fault in the U.S.’s current approach to Syria is not its stance, which has been staunchly anti-normalization, but rather the overall lack of a strategic vision on how the U.S. and its allies can effectively influence the status quo and prevent the normalization of the Syrian government.

Likewise, sanctions can be a valuable tool, and the expansion under this Act is important. However, sanctions alone will not help realize the goals of the Caesar Act or the current bill. Until the U.S. develops a comprehensive policy towards Syria that extends beyond sanctions, it will struggle to have a meaningful impact on the human rights situation in Syria or the continued movement towards normalization.


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