The United States announced sanctions against Syria Monday in response to a chemical weapons attack earlier this month.
According to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. companies are now barred from doing business with 271 employees of a Syrian government agency said to be responsible for the development of chemical weapons. The targets, deemed “highly educated” members of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), will also have any potential assets held abroad frozen by U.S. banks.
The more than 200 employees have been described as having “expertise in chemistry and related disciplines and/or have worked in support of SSRC’s chemical weapons program since at least 2012.”
During a conference call with reporters, Mnuchin vowed to “relentlessly pursue” any financial networks linked to the alleged continuation of Syria’s chemical weapons program.
“We take Syria’s disregard for innocent human life very seriously, and will relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities,” Mnuchin said.
Mnuchin further asserted that the sanctions would “hold the Assad regime accountable for its unacceptable behavior.”
“These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children,” he added.
The chemical weapons attack in Idlib, which is said to have taken the lives of 80 civilians, has been blamed on the Assad regime by the Trump administration and numerous U.S. allies. Assad in turn called the attack a “fabrication” by the West in order to justify further escalation. Russia, Syria’s main ally in the region, similarly alleged that the attack was likely “staged.”
Monday’s announcement follows a U.S. cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase accused of helping launch the Sarin gas attack.
Both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush similarly targeted the SSRC with sanctions during their administrations – though the actions by the Trump White House are said to be some of the most substantial in the Treasury’s history.