United States sanctions Syrian foreign minister

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

In the latest escalation of U.S.-Syrian hostilities, the United States took the unusual step Tuesday of issuing sanctions against Syria's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem.

The announcement came as the brother of a prominent Washington, D.C.-based Syrian opposition activist and scholar, Radwan Ziadeh, was arrested by the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and a day after a video appeared on YouTube showing Robert Ford, the American ambassador to Syria, being manhandled while on an Aug. 23 visit to the Syrian city of Jassem by two pro-Assad demonstrators, as first reported Monday by Foreign Policy. (You can see the YouTube video below.)

The Treasury Department announced Tuesday that it is sanctioning the Damascus regime's foreign minister, as well as Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali, and Assad's presidential and media adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban.

Under the sanctions, Americans "are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with any of the designees and any assets they may have subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen," the Treasury Department said. The sanctions also restrict the foreign minister's opportunities to travel to the United States outside of United Nations business in New York.

"Building on our sanctions targeting the entire Government of Syria, we are bringing additional pressure to bear today directly on three senior Asad regime officials who are principal defenders of the regime's activities," the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen, said in a press release Tuesday.

Syrian pro-democracy activist Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian scholar based at George Washington University, confirmed in an email to the Envoy Tuesday that his brother was taken into custody by Syrian Air Force security personnel Tuesday.

"Yes, the [Syrian] Air Force security arrested him today morning and we don't have info about him where he is exactly right now," Ziadeh said in an email. "I have a concern [he] may be under torture."

Ziadeh was among a group of Syrian and Syrian-American democracy activists who met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month.

Separately, the European Union is expected to possibly issue sanctions on energy imports from Syria this week. European Union countries account for some 90 percent of Syria's oil exports, analysts said.