The United States applauds the Council of the European Union’s recent decision to sanction sixteen Syrian military officials and scientists for their roles in the development and use of chemical weapons on civilian populations on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The sanctions on eight members of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre as well as eight high-ranking officials follow upon similar actions by the U.S. and other allies aimed at holding the Assad government accountable for violating the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention by gassing its own people.
Such attacks include one on the town of Khan Shaykhun in Idlib province last April. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has determined that sarin gas was used in the attack, which killed at least 82 civilians, including children. U.S. and other Western intelligence reports say the Assad regime was responsible. According to the United Nations, there were also three incidents in 2016 where chlorine gas was used on civilians. The sanctions will freeze the financial assets of the sixteen Syrians and restrict their ability to travel.
The United States is committed to reducing civilian suffering in Syria and recently agreed with Russia and Jordan to support a ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the Southwest region. Russia has backed the Assad regime in the conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the agreement the “first indication” the U.S. and Russia can work together in Syria, and noted hopes that the progress can be replicated with further ceasefires throughout the country:
“Russia,” said Secretary Tillerson, “has the same, I think, interest that we do in having Syria become a stable place, a unified place, but ultimately a place where we can facilitate a political discussion about their future, including the future leadership of Syria.”
He made clear, however, that the Assad regime has “lost credibility with the international community.”
“We think it will be difficult,” he said, “For them to attract both the humanitarian aid, as well as the reconstruction assistance that's going to be required, because there just will be such a low level of confidence in the Assad government.”
“How Assad leaves is yet to be determined,” said Secretary Tillerson, “But our view is that somewhere in that political process there will be a transition away from the Assad family.”