In a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy, last week the U.S. withdrew its forces from northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish offensive against the “Syrian Democratic Forces”. This offensive has attracted international condemnation, particularly from the U.S. and EU, who have responded with certain restrictive measures discussed below.
The situation is dynamic and we anticipate further steps will be taken in the days and weeks ahead.
The new Executive Order
On October 14, 2019, President Trump issued a new Executive Order (the “EO”) blocking property and suspending entry of certain persons contributing to the situation in Syria. Thereafter, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) imposed blocking sanctions on the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and the Republic of Turkey Ministry of National Defense, as well as the ministers of Energy and Natural Resources, National Defense, and the Interior. This comes just eight days after President Trump announced that American troops would withdraw from northern Syria.
Under this EO, the Secretary of Treasury is authorized to block the property of any person determined:
- to be responsible for or complicity in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in, or attempted to engage in actions or policies that further threaten the peace, security, stability, or territorial integrity of Syria OR the commission of serious human rights abuse;
- to be a current or former official of the Government of Turkey;
- to operate in such sectors of the Turkish economy as may be determined; or
- to be owned or controlled by or to have acted for or on behalf of, directly, or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.
U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in virtually all transactions with persons and entities whose property has been blocked, unless an exception applies. Additionally, pursuant to the new EO, non-U.S. persons will be exposed to a risk of sanctions if they engage in certain transactions with persons or entities who have been “blocked” under this EO. Specifically, the Secretary of Treasury can impose blocking sanctions on non-U.S. persons who are determined to have materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, any person or entity blocked under the EO. Additionally, sanctions can be imposed on foreign financial institutions who are determined to have knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant transaction for or on behalf of certain blocked persons or entities.
Additionally, the Secretary of State is now authorised to impose a range of sanctions on foreign persons who are responsible for or complicit in, have directly or indirectly engaged in, or have attempted to engage in, or have financed any of the following:
- the obstruction, disruption, or prevention of a ceasefire in northern Syria;
- the intimidation or prevention of displaced persons from voluntarily returning to their places of residence in Syria;
- the forcible repatriation of persons or refugees to Syria; or
- the obstruction, disruption, or prevention of efforts to promote a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
The Secretary of State is also authorized to impose sanctions on:
- adult family members of a person who has been sanctioned pursuant to the aforementioned categories; and
- persons responsible for or complicit in, or who have directly or indirectly engaged in, or attempted to engage in the expropriation of property, for personal gain or political purposes in Syria.