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Monday, February 27, 2012

Unrest in Syria and U.S. Sanctions Against the Asad Regime

Jeremy M. Sharp
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Christopher M. Blanchard
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

This report analyzes the current unrest in Syria and the U.S. response to the Syrian government’s crackdown against demonstrators. It also provides background information on U.S. sanctions against the Asad regime and its supporters.

The confrontations and violence that swept through Syria in 2011 have escalated to the edge of civil war in early 2012. President Bashar al Asad and his family members refuse to leave power, despite internal demands and intense international pressure calling for political change and an end to violence against civilians. Instead, the regime has offered limited reforms and is meeting popular protests and armed opposition attacks with overwhelming force.

President Obama and his Administration have been calling for Asad’s resignation since August 2011 and have been vocal advocates for United Nations Security Council action to facilitate his removal. However, with the council deadlocked and Russia and China showing no public willingness to endorse a military intervention in Syria, the Administration may be searching for new ways to accelerate Asad’s departure.

Some Members of Congress and nongovernmental observers argue that the recent violence demonstrates the futility of expecting any substantive reform by Syrian authorities and suggests that U.S. policy should shift toward outright confrontation and embrace regime change as a policy goal. While the Administration has called for President Asad to step down, arguments in favor of regime change have been accompanied by wariness about what the implications of confrontation would be, and what the implications of regime change would be for regional security, particularly in light of the delicate sectarian balance in the Levant and a lack of established U.S. relationships with government and nongovernment actors in Syria. Other lawmakers have urged a gradual approach of increasing multilateral political condemnation and economic pressure against the Asad regime.

For now, the major question before concerned international actors is how to support Syria’s opposition in a supportive manner that circumvents the United Nations Security Council veto of Russia and China, assuming both nations do not change their position on Syria. Even a recent Arab League-approved resolution continued to seek U.N. approval by calling on the Security Council to authorize a joint Arab-United Nations force to “supervise the execution of a ceasefire.”

Date of Report: February 1
6, 2012
Number of Pages:
Order Number: RL33
Price: $29.95

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