US sanctions blocking Syria reconstruction, says Emirati minister

Foreign minister calls for end to Syria’s suspension from Arab League membership

UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Nahyan speaks as then US president Donald Trump looks on during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords on the south lawn of the White House last September. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Nahyan speaks as then US president Donald Trump looks on during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords on the south lawn of the White House last September. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

 

Wide-ranging US sanctions on Damascus are blocking Syrian reconstruction and undermining regional reconciliation that could bring an end to 10 years of war in that country, the Emirates’ foreign minister has said.

Abdullah bin Zayed Nahyan has called for an end to Syria’s suspension from Arab League membership, and for talks with the United States as its comprehensive sanctions regime makes it “difficult” to attain Arab objectives. He said his government and the Emirati private sector could play a role in returning Syria to “normal”.

Sheikh Abdullah is the brother of Emirati president Sheikh Khalifa, as well as brother of the powerful Abu Dhabi crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed. Sheikh Abdullah has held the foreign and international development portfolio since 2006.

Although Sheikh Abdullah has said there are other obstacles to restoring Syria to “normal”, he has declared the “bigger challenge today facing co-ordination and working with Syria is the Caesar Act”.

The comments are a message to the Biden administration, which has said it will enforce the Caesar Civilian Protection Act adopted by the US Congress in June 2020 with backing from the Trump administration.

Sanctions

The Act holds president Bashar al-Assad accountable for repression and imposes sanctions on him, his family, Syria’s central bank, the business community and state organisations involved in prosecuting the war. The Act targets foreign governments, institutions, companies and individuals doing business with Syria.

By ramping up and broadening sanctions, the US has plunged Syria’s war-ravaged economy into crisis. Since the imposition of the Caesar sanctions, the Syrian currency has lost 70 per cent of its value, making food and fuel too expensive for a majority of Syrians, deepening nationwide poverty and preventing the country from securing funds for essential imports and reconstruction.

Since Syria has been cut off from traditional trading partners Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, their already struggling economies have also been harshly impacted by the Caesar Act, while Gulf, Asian and European countries prepared to help rebuild Syria risk financial punishment if they invest.

The Emirates and other Gulf countries initially supported the Syrian opposition. However, once the government regained and consolidated its hold on territory seized by opposition and jihadi forces, the Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Egypt switched sides.

They reopened their embassies in Damascus to restore the Arab diplomatic presence in Syria, provide political support for the government’s battle against the Muslim Brotherhood-jihadi elements of the opposition, and to counter Iranian influence.