1. Update
  2. Middle East & Iran

Piling On Syria Sanctions Undermines Diplomacy

By Diana Ohlbaum, Kate Gould, January 15, 2019


In the coming days and weeks, FCNL expects the House and the Senate to vote on two measures -- the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act (H.R. 31) in the House and the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (S. 1) in the Senate – that would add a new layer of sanctions to those already in effect against Syria.

FCNL urges members of Congress to oppose these bills because they will make it far more difficult to negotiate a ceasefire agreement and reach a diplomatic settlement to the long and bloody conflict. By requiring that unrealistic conditions be met before the penalties can be suspended, the bills tie the hands of our negotiators and provide little incentive for the Syrian government to improve its conduct. Although both bills would allow the president to lift sanctions temporarily if doing so is “in the national security interests of the United States,” there is no provision for terminating the sanctions until the bill expires in five years.

FCNL believes that the only way to end the Syrian carnage is through a political solution, and that Congress should take every opportunity to press the administration to pursue a U.N.-led political negotiation process.

In addition to imposing new sanctions against Syria, the Senate bill contains the Combating BDS Act, which would provide legal cover to state laws that penalize businesses and individuals who participate in boycott, divestment, or sanctions (BDS) activities and other politically motivated boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements. FCNL opposes the Combating BDS Act because the legislation would violate the First Amendment rights of all Americans and extend U.S. legal protection to Israeli settlements.

FCNL opposed the original draft of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act in 2017. Since that time, important changes to the legislation have been made, but our core concerns remain the same. In light of President Trump’s recent decision to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, support for this bill--in both the House and the Senate--is widely being interpreted a rebuke to the President's Syria policy.

This legislation merits careful and serious consideration and, given that there are 101 new elected representatives in Congress, we are particularly concerned that the House plans to consider it through a fast-track procedure used to quickly pass non-controversial bills.

The 116th Congress should use the first foreign policy vehicle of the year as an opportunity to put forward a new and visionary approach for how America should engage the world.

Yet instead of moving forward constructive proposals for resolving the greatest humanitarian crises of our times, both chambers are prioritizing ‘more of the same’—piling on more sanctions with no clear path for unraveling them or even for altering the behavior of those targeted by these sanctions. We urge Congress to rethink this approach and provide full and open consideration of this legislation.

Diana Ohlbaum

  • Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum directs FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.

Kate Gould

  • Legislative Director, Middle East Policy

Kate Gould is FCNL's Legislative Director for Middle East Policy. Kate is one of only a handful of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. working to advance human rights objectives and support diplomatic solutions to resolve disputes between the U.S. and Iran and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel/Palestine.