Barack Obama on Syria

Last Updated : Aug 06, 2012

Summary

President Obama's policy towards Syria intially seemed to be one of outreach and diplomacy. However, once the protests began in Syria, President Obama has pursued an aggressive campaign aimed at removing the Assad regime from power.

One of President Obama's first actions when taking office was to continue previous sanctions against people in Syria identified as supporting terrorism. Not long after that, President Obama reinstated an embassy in Damascus for the first time since 2005. That ambassador was recalled when violence broke out in that nation.

After months of condemning the violence in Syria, President Obama instituted new sanctions on the leadership in that nation. When the violence continued, President Obama initiated sanctions on the nations petroleum industry and froze all assets from that nation. At the same time, President Obama called for Assad to step down.

Since that time, calls to remove Assad have continued, however those remarks were often tempered by the statements that the Syrian people must control their own destiny and that no foreign nation should interfere with that process.

Since March 15, 2012 the Obama administration has given $76 million for humanitarian aid to Syria. Most of that money has gone to the World Food Bank, the UN Refugee Commission, and non-governmental organizations.

A number of revelations emerged in August of 2012 concerning US involvement in Syria. Among these was that President Obama had signed an intelligence finding at some point that allowed the CIA to operate in Syria towards the goal of supporting the rebels to remove the Assad regime. An amount totalling $25 million was allocated to assist the rebels in non-lethal equipment, such as communication equipment. Some news agencies reported that shoulder fired missiles had been given to the rebels from either private donors or from the stockpile in Libya. The US acknowledged having a base in Southern Turley that it used to coordinate the rebels in Syria and the government denied that the missiles were funneled through this area. 

Continuing Sanctions

In May of 2009, President Obama wrote a letter to Congress notifying them that he was continuing the sanctions on Syria that were put in place by the Bush administration. In this letter, President Obama asserted that the actions of the Government of Syria in supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.

Reinstating and Recalling the Ambassador

In 2005, President Bush removed the embassy from Syrian due to that nation's actions in Lebanon. In June of 2009, President Obama reinstated that ambassadorship. In sending an amnassador to the nation, the Obama administration asserted that Syria was to play an important role in Democracy in the region in the future. On February 6, 2012, the Obama administration recalled the ambassdor and closed the embassy in Damascus. When that embassy was closed, the reason given was that due to the protests and fighting there the safety of the embassy personnel could not be guaranteed.

New Sanctions and Condemning Violence

Violence in Syrian began in March of 2011 when protests against arrests and the use of violence against Syrian civilians began to grow. In April of that year, the administration released a press statement claiming that they strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups.

In April of 2012 the Obama administration issued an Executive Order imposing sanctions on Syria. These sanctions blocked the transfer of property  or materials for those who are accused of human rights violations in Syria. The order provided a list of people to whom the sanctions applied.

New Sanctions and Assad Must Go

On August 18, 2011 President Obama issued a second Executive Order initiating a new round of sanctions against the nation of Syria. These sanctions followed several more condemnations of the violence in Syria. In statements, the Obama administration asserted that Syrian security forces were continuing to shoot, assault, and arrest demonstrators and detain political prisoners. Specifically, the new sanctions banned the import of petroleum and petroleum related products into the US. It also froze all assets of the Government of Syria subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibited U.S. persons from engaging in any transaction involving the Government of Syria. It was later confirmed that this prohibition extended to website hosting services for the Syrian government.

In issuing this order for sanctions, President Obama also stated for the first time that President Assad of Syria must step down. He also stated that the future of Syria must be determined by its people and that the US could not and will not impose the transition upon the Syrian people and that the people must chose their own leadership. 

That same day, Secretary of State Clinton spoke about the new sanctions and the US desire to see Assad go. During that speech, SoS Clinton asserted that the transition to democracy in Syria had begun and it was time for Assad to get out of the way. She reiterated that no outside power can or should impose on this transition and that it was up to the Syrian people to chose their own leaders in a democratic system based on the rule of law and dedicated to protecting the rights of all citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion, sect, or gender. However, these statements were tempered by other statements within that same speech in which the SoS stated that although we understand the strong desire of the Syrain people that no foreign country should intervene in their struggle, the US will act to support their aspirations for a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive, and we will stand up for their universal rights and dignity by pressuring the regime and Assad personally to get out of the way of the transition. 

These statements that President Assad must go were repeated numerous times througout 2011 and 2012. Often, the language was included that the future of Syria must be determined by its people.

Humanitarian Aid to Syria

The US began to give humanitarian assistance to Syria on March 15, 2012 with a $12 million dollar allotment to several organizations. Since that time, the administration has donated a total of $76 million in humanitarian aid. The dates and allotments for those funds are shown below.

  • March 15, 2012 - $12 million
  • April 1, 2012   -    $12 million   -   $25 million total
  • May 10, 2012  -   $6.5 million   -  $40 million total
  • June 8, 2012  -    $12.8 million  - $52 million total
  • July 16, 2012   -  $12 million   -   $64 million total
  • August 2, 2012 - $12 million   -   $76 million total

 

  • $27.5 million to the World Food Program (WFP);
  • $18.1 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR);
  • $15.1 million to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs);
  • $8 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC);
  • $3 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA);
  • $2.75 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF);
  • $1 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC);
  • $500,000 to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and
  • $300,000 to the UN Department of Safety and Security for support of humanitarian operations

 

CIA Finding

On August 1, 2012 several news outlets reported that at some point earlier in 2012 President Obama signed an intelligence finding that authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government. The finding broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad. 

The extent of the US government's assistance is not clear. However, a U.S. government source has acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies. This "nerve center" is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles (100 km) from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.

Reuters and other sources reported that the US government had initially allocated $15 million in non-lethal assitance to the Syrian rebels but later added another $10 million to bring the total to $25 million. The money was to go to communications and other equipment.

MANPADS

On August 3, 2012 NBC News reported that the Syrian opposition were receiving shoulder launched, anti-aircraft missiles known as MANPADS. These MANPADS were reportedly being paid for by wealthy families in the area and then funneled into the country through Turkey. However, following the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, some intelligence experts estimated that as many as 10,000-15,000 MANPADs sets were looted from Libyan government stockpiles. The whereabouts of most of these are unknown.

According to the Huffington Post, Bassam al-Dada, a political adviser to the Free Syrian Army, denied the NBC report, telling the Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya that the group had "not obtained any such weapons at all." U.S. government sources said they could not confirm the MANPADs deliveries, but could not rule them out either.

Syrian Support Group

In August of 2012, the Daily Telegraph and other sources reported that in late July, the Obama administration had granted a license to the Syrian Support Group to begin fund-raising on behalf of the Free Syrian Army, the main group identified with the rebels in Syria.

 

Renewing Previous Sanctions

In May of 2009, President Obama renewed sanctions against Syria that were initiated during the Bush administration. In doing so, he stated that the country was supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and undermining US and international efforts in Iraq.

 

Reappointing an Ambassador

On June 24, 2009 the Obama administration announced that it would be appointing an ambassador to Syria. The United States withdrew its ambassador to Syria in 2005 to protest Syrian actions in neighboring Lebanon. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman, informed the Syrian ambassador to Washington and stated that the move was an example of the administrations committment to use all tools to address US concerns.

 

Condemning Violence

On April 22, 2011 the White House issued a press statement noting the administration's opposition to violence in Syria by the government to put down protests there.

 

New Sanctions - Blocking Property

In April of 2011, President Obama issued an executive order imposing new sanctions. Those sanctions blocked the property of certain people and groups that were involved in human rights abuses in Syria. An annex was provided within the Executive Order providing the list of people to whom the sanctions applied. The fact sheet shown below was issued by the White House explaining the sanctions.

 

Appaling Violence

In June of 2011, the White House issued a press statement condemning the use in violence in northern Syria. It called for an immediate end to brutality and violence in Syria.

 

Stricter Sanctions - Assad Must Go

On August 18, 2011 President Obama issued an executive order imposing new sanctions on Syria. These sanctions mainly consisted of blocking the property of the Syrian government, banning US companies from investing in exporting services to Syria, and banned the imports of petroleum or petroleum products from Syria.

In announcing those sanctions, President Obama stated that the future of Syrian must be determined by the Syrian people and that Assad was standing in their way. He also stated that the US cannot and will not impose the transition on the Syrian people, but they will pressure Assad to leave office.

 

Assad Must Get Out of the Way

The same day that President Obama issued the order imposing sanctions on the Syrian government, Secretary of State Clinton spoke and stated that Assad must get out of the way of his people's transition to Democracy.

 

Assad Must Go

In October of 2011, President Obama again made statements that the view of the United States was that Assad must go. In a press statement, he asserted that the Syrian President was standing the way of Syrian people.

 

Web Hosting Violates Sanctions

In November of 2011, Secretary of State Clinton was asked a question at a press conference as to whether or not hosting websites for the Syrian government constituted a violation of sanctions. SoS Clinton confirmed that this was the case.

 

Suspending Embassy Operations

On February 6, 2012 the State Department announced that it was suspending embassy operations in Syria. The reason given was that the violence in Syria has led the US government to conclude that the diplomatic team there was not safe.

 

Humanitarian Aid to Syrian

On March 15, 2012 the State Department released a statement noting that it was providing $12 million in humanitarian aid through the UN and other humanitarian organizations. This included funds to the UN commission for refugees, the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and other non-governmental organizations.

 

Additional Humanitarian Support

On April 1, 2012 the State Department issued a press statement noting $12.2 million in additional humanitarian aid to Syria. This included aid to the World Food Program, the UN commission on refugees, the Red Cross, and other NGOs.

 

Conference of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People

On April 1, 2012 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the Conference of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People. At that conference, 70 nations recognized the Syrian National Council as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people . The US pledged increased support for opposition forces in humanitarian aid and other aid. The body decided that Syria must implement reforms outlined by Koffi Annan. Senator Clinton also stated that it was time for the Assad regime to go, and that the US was going to be supporting the oppostion.

The plan put forward by Kofi Annan called for commitments to stop fighting, troop movements and the use of heavy weapons in populated areas. It also demands a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, release of arbitrarily detained people and free access for journalists.

 

Additional Aid

On May 10, 2012 the State Department issued a press statement noting that an additional $6.5 billion was being sent as aid to Syria. This aid included the same four organizations previously donated to plus the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN relief and Works Agency for the Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

 

Condemnation of Syrian Action

On June 7, 2012 the Obama administration issued a press statements condemning the actions of the Assad regime in using violence to put down protests in that country.

 

Additional Aid to Syria

On June 8, 2012 the State Department issued a press statement noting that it was providing an additional $12.8 millin for humanitarian assistance bringing the total to $52 million to Syrian and various organizations.

 

Additional Aid to Syria

On July 16, 2012 the State Department issued a press statement detailing the amount of total aid given to Syria for the uprising as at $64 million.

 

Revelation of CIA Finding

On August 1, 2012 several news outlets reported that at some point earlier in 2012 President Obama signed an intelligence finding that authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government. The finding broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad. 

The extent of the US government's assistance is not clear. However, a U.S. government source has acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies. This "nerve center" is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles (100 km) from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.

Reuters and other sources reported that the US government had initially allocated $15 million in non-lethal assitance to the Syrian rebels but later added another $10 million to bring the total to $25 million. The money was to go to communications and other equipment.

 

MANPADS

On August 3, 2012 NBC News reported that the Syrian opposition were receiving shoulder launched, anti-aircraft missiles known as MANPADS. These MANPADS were reportedly being paid for by wealthy families in the area and then funneled into the country through Turkey. However, following the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, some intelligence experts estimated that as many as 10,000-15,000 MANPADs sets were looted from Libyan government stockpiles. The whereabouts of most of these are unknown.

According to the Huffington Post, Bassam al-Dada, a political adviser to the Free Syrian Army, denied the NBC report, telling the Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya that the group had "not obtained any such weapons at all." U.S. government sources said they could not confirm the MANPADs deliveries, but could not rule them out either.

 

Syrian Support Group

In August of 2012, the Daily Telegraph and other sources reported that in late July, the Obama administration had granted a license to the Syrian Support Group to begin fund-raising on behalf of the Free Syrian Army, the main group identified with the rebels in Syria.

 

Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

This representative has not been identified as sponsoring or cosponsoring significant legislation related to this title.

References

[1] Website: BBC News Article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-19102374 Author: NA Accessed on: 08/06/2012

[2] Website: The Huffington Post Article: Obama Secret Syria Order Authorizes Support For Rebels Author: Reuters Accessed on: 08/06/2012

[3] Website: Reuters Article: Syrian rebels acquire surface-to-air missiles: report Author: NA Accessed on: 08/06/2012

[4] Website: Voice of America Article: White House Dismisses Reports of Aid to Syrian Rebels Author: Kent Klein Accessed on: 08/06/2012

[5] Website: Chicago Tribune Article: U.S. sets aside $25 million for non-lethal aid to Syria rebels Author: Reuters Accessed on: 08/06/2012

[6] Website: The State Department Article: U.S. Humanitarian Aid Reaching Syria and Neighboring Countries Author: NA Accessed on: 08/06/2012

[7] Website: The Telegraph Article: Syria: US clears way for Americans to start donating money to rebels Author: Raf Sanchez Accessed on: 08/06/2012

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