Commentary Type

Case 86-1


US v. Syria (1986-: Terrorism)


Chronology of Key Events

July 1979

Congress passes an amendment sponsored by Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick (R-NJ) to Export Administration Act requiring notification of "the appropriate Congressional committees before any license is approved for the export of goods or technology valued at more than $7 million to any country supporting terrorism." (Flores 567)
January 8, 1980 US State Department lists Syria, along with People's Democratic Republic of (South) Yemen, Libya, Iraq, as country supporting international terrorism. Carter administration issues regulations requiring validated license for export of crime control and detection equipment; certain military vehicles, equipment; helicopters worth $3 million or more; goods, technology "subject to national security controls if the export is destined to military end users" and is valued at $7 million or more. Regulations serve primarily to discourage sale of US—manufactured civil aircraft to Iraq, Libya. (Congressional Research Service [CRS]1992, 199; US Department of Commerce 17)
March 1982 State Department modifies export controls to "permit the export to Syria and South Yemen, without foreign policy review, of aircraft destined to regularly scheduled civil airlines in those countries, for which assurances against military use have been provided." (US Department of Commerce 17)
July 8, 1985 President Ronald Reagan accuses Iran, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Nicaragua of being "confederation of terrorist states" guilty of "outright acts of war" against US. Reagan does not mention Syria, even though it is on State Department list of terrorist-supporting nations; omission is reportedly out of gratitude for Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's assistance in obtaining release of 39 Americans held hostage for 17 days in Beirut after their TWA flight was hijacked in June. (Facts on File 489, 506)
January 10, 1986 Following imposition of broad economic sanctions against Libya, State Department official warns that similar actions could be taken against Syria "if its support for the Abu Nidal Palestinian group could be traced to future terrorist actions." (New York Times, 11 January 1986, A1)
April 17, 1986 Time bomb is discovered in luggage of woman boarding El Al flight at London's Heathrow Airport. (CRS 1992, 199)
June 5, 1986 Based on information that Syria is developing chemical weapons in cooperation with Iran, US bans export to Syria of eight chemicals that might be used to produce mustard and nerve gases. US also re-imposes controls on export of helicopters to Syria. (CRS 1992, 200)
October 1986 Nizar Hindawi is convicted by British court of placing bomb in his fiancee's bag without her knowledge before she boarded El Al flight in April. Citing evidence from trial and from intelligence sources that Syrian government is implicated in bomb attempt, UK breaks diplomatic relations with Syria. US recalls its ambassador for indefinite period. (Wall Street Journal, 28 October 1986, 39; New York Times, 28 October 1986, A3; CRS 1992, 199)
October 28, 1986 European Commission announces plans to cut agricultural export subsidies to Syria. (Financial Times, 29 October 1986, 1)
November 10, 1986 EC foreign ministers, except minister from Greece, approve limited sanctions package against Syria that bans new arm sales but allows existing contracts to be honored; package also imposes diplomatic sanctions, including ban on high-level visits, review of embassy and consular personnel, tightened security measures with respect to Syrian Arab Airlines. Sanctions are viewed as largely symbolic since they do not ban arms deliveries under contracts that have already been signed, and since Syria gets most of its arms from Soviet Union. (Washington Post, 11 November 1986; Financial Times, 11 November 1986, 1)
November 14, 1986 US removes Syria from March 1982 exception allowing sales of civilian aircraft, adopts policy of generally denying export to Syria of goods, technology for which validated license is required. Reagan administration also bans Export-Import Bank financing for Syria, cancels US-Syria air transport agreement, prohibits sale in US of tickets for travel on Syrian Arab Airlines, reduces embassy staff in Damascus, encourages US oil companies to terminate operations in Syria. Administration also withdraws Syria's eligibility for agricultural export subsidies under Export Enhancement Program. (CRS 1992, 201; Washington Post, 15 November 1986, A1; International Trade Reporter, 19 November 1986, 1382; US Department of Commerce 10-11)
November 27, 1986 West German court concludes that officials at Syrian embassy in East Berlin provided bomb that two Arab terrorists exploded at German-Arab Social Club in West Berlin in March. West German government imposes series of diplomatic and economic sanctions against Syria, including suspension of development aid, $73 million in low-interest loans. (Washington Post, 28 November 1986, A1)
March 1987 Amid reports that "Syrian diplomats have been quietly lobbying to qualify anew for subsidized community wheat," several EC nations, led by France, Belgium, resume "cautious dialogue" with Syria. Sources say this is in response to recent moves by Assad, including demotion of head of Syrian air force intelligence, who was linked to previous year's terrorist activities. Some European officials also hope that Syrians can help with return of hostages in Beirut. (New York Times, 31 March 1987, A10)
July 13, 1987 EC ends ban on high-level meetings with Syrian officials. (Facts on File 600)
August 19, 1987 US announces that its ambassador will return to Damascus, drops its policy of discouraging US oil companies from operating in Syria. (Facts on File 600; Washington Post, 20 September 1987, A1)
September 19, 1987 In interview with US reporters, Assad welcomes lifting of US diplomatic, some economic sanctions, confirms that Syria has closed Damascus office of Abu Nidal group, pledges to continue efforts to secure release of Western hostages held in Lebanon. (Washington Post, 20 September 1987, A1)
Summer 1988 Edward P. Djerejian is appointed US ambassador to Syria, is reportedly given instructions to expand relations between the two countries. According to Western European official, "Assad wants relations to both superpowers at a time of reconciliation between Washington and Moscow and is eager to receive American economic aid and develop business ties." (New York Times, 16 July 1989)
December 1988 Pan Am jet bound for New York with 259 people aboard is blown up over Scotland. Palestinian group with headquarters in Damascus is suspected of involvement in downing of Pan Am Flight 103, despite denials by its leader, Ahmed Jabril (See Case 78-8). Assad reportedly provides private assurances that he will prosecute anyone in Syria clearly linked to bombing. (New York Times, 16 July 1989)
April 22, 1990 American hostage is released in Lebanon following "intensive negotiations and pressure exerted on the kidnappers" by Iran, Syria. President George Bush telephones Assad to thank him for his role in obtaining release. US officials caution, however, that "no substantive improvements in relations with Syria or Iran are likely at this time." (Washington Post, 23-24 April 1990, A1)
April 30, 1990 Second American hostage is released in Damascus. In Washington, State Department report on nations supporting terrorism is released as required by Congress; Syria, Iran remain on list. Report notes that although there is no evidence of direct Syrian involvement in or support for terrorist actions since 1987, Syrians "continue to provide support and safe haven to a number of groups that engaged in international terrorism," including Hezbollah and the Jabril group. (Washington Post, 1 May 1990, A18)
November 28, 1990 Britain restores relations with Damascus in an effort to win the release of British hostages in Lebanon and to reward Syria for its participation in the anti-Iraq Gulf War coalition. The move also allows Syria to receive $200 million in development assistance from the European Community, withheld since 1986. (Washington Post, 29 November 1990, A37)
late April 1991 US anti-terrorism experts hold secret talks with Syrian officials in Damascus in an effort to resolve problems with state-supported terrorism that hinder bilateral relations. (Washington Post, 25 July 1991, A33)
10 July 1991 The United Kingdom announces support for easing the EU arms embargo against Syria, but the Netherlands, which holds the presidency of the European Commission, announces that it does not plan to bring up the issue. (Financial Times, 11 July 1991, 4)
October 1991 Syria attends US-sponsored Middle East peace talks in Madrid and expresses its willingness to begin negotiations on the Golan Heights and other issues. (US Department of State, Background Notes-Syria, 1995)
November 1991 US President Bush meets with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in Geneva, the first meeting of US and Syrian heads of state in 13 years. (Banks, Day and Muller 1997, 819)
January 15, 1992 CIA Director Robert Gates reports that Syria, with assistance from China and several European firms, is attempting to acquire chemical and biological weapons. (Arms Sales Monitor, Issue #11, February 1992)
April 20, 1992 Syria threatens to resume airline service to Libya, in defiance of the UN sanctions against Libya imposed at the beginning of the month, but backs down when other countries in the region refuse to grant the Syrian aircraft permission to fly through their airspace. Syrian President Hafez al-Assad embarks on a tour of Gulf states to bolster Arab unity, fearing that Syria could one day be subject to UN sanctions. (Wall Street Journal, 21 April 1992, A1; Agence France-Presse, 20 April 1992, 23 April 1992)
June 15, 1992 President Bush suspends Syria's GSP benefits because of an inadequate protection of workers' rights. (CRS 1992, 642)
June 16, 1992 The US Commerce Department announces stricter licensing requirements for US exports of goods that could be used in the production of missiles to all of the Middle East, as well as to Brazil, China, India, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and South Africa. (USIS, 16 June 1992)
June 24, 1992 Congressional critics assail the administration for allowing US-manufactured military equipment to fall into Syrian hands, despite the US ban on arms sales to Damascus. Administration officials deny responsibility for transferring surplus equipment from the Gulf War, and suggest that Gulf allies donated the arms materiel in gratitude for Syria's participation in the conflict. (Arms Sales Monitor #16, July 1992)
October 5, 1993 US Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara hold talks in Washington as part of a round of US consultations with all of the key parties in the Middle East peace process. (USIS, 5 October 1993)
January 3, 1994 President Clinton reassures family members of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing that Syria will not be removed from the list of countries supporting terrorism, despite the administration's efforts to improve relations with Damascus to gain Syrian cooperation in the Middle East peace process. (Washington Post, 4 January 1996, A10)
January 4, 1994 White House spokesperson Mike McCurry announces that Syria will remain on the State Department's "terrorism list" until it stops providing support for and safe haven to terrorist groups. (USIS, 4 January 1994)
January 16, 1994 Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and President Clinton meet after Syria agrees to resume Middle East peace talks with Israel. The countries discuss establishing a "new vehicle" for working out US concerns over Syria's support for terrorism and human rights violations; however a senior US official after the meeting declares that on those subjects "clearly areas of difference are between us, and there is no meeting of the minds." (Washington Post, 17 January 1994, A1)
July 28, 1994 Syria criticizes Jordan for signing a separate peace agreement with Israel. Though Syria, along with its client government in Lebanon, are the only Arab "front line" states not to recognize the Israeli state, Syria agrees to enter into talks with Israel over the Golan Heights. (Banks, Day and Muller 1997, 820; IISS, 1995)
October 27, 1994 President Clinton visits Damascus in an attempt to revive Syrian-Israeli peace talks, which have stalled over technical issues. (IISS, 1995)
November 28, 1994 The European Union agrees to lift its eight-year old arms embargo on Syria; Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres condemns the move. (Financial Times, 29 November 1994, 8)
February 1996 In the wake of four suicide bombings in Israel by Palestinian terrorists, Israel breaks off peace negotiations with Syria. (Financial Times, 17 February 1997, 19)
March 1, 1996 President Clinton denies narcotics certification for Syria, as has been done every year since the program was implemented in 1987. Syria continues to be ineligible for foreign assistance or for GSP programs. (President's Export Council, Survey of US Unilateral Economic Sanctions, June 1997)
April 24, 1996 President Clinton signs the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, containing an amendment, sponsored by Representative Bill McCollum (R-FL), prohibiting any financial transactions with the government of a country designated as a terrorist state. The so-called "Farrakhan amendment" was inspired by US Islamic leader Louis Farrakhan's travels to Libya to meet with Moammar Gadhafi to discuss ways in which Libya could support Farrakhan's efforts in the United States. Also known as section 321, the provision bars groups or individuals in the US from accepting donations from terrorist sponsoring governments. As written, however, the act would have the effect of seemingly prohibits all business transactions, including finance for normal trade, with governments such as Syria's where the state has a large role in the economy. The clause would only impact Sudan and Syria, as the other terrorist designated states are already subject to comprehensive US trade bans. (Journal of Commerce, 2 July 1996, 1A)
May 29, 1996 Benjamin Netanyahu wins Israel's presidential elections. He calls for "a much tougher line" in addressing the Palestinian issue, and maintenance of the Golan Heights to ensure the security of northern Israel. Prospects for Israel-Syria peace talks recede. (Banks, Day and Muller 1997, 407; Financial Times, 17 February 1997, 19)
June 25, 1996 A truck bomb explodes outside a US Air Force housing complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American servicemen. Iran and Syria are suspected of involvement. (New York Times, 3 August 1996, 4)
August 1996 The administration issues regulations implementing the Anti-terrorism Act of 1996. The regulations authorize financial transactions with the Governments of Syria and Sudan, except for transfers from those governments in the form of donations, and transfers when a US person believes the transaction will be used to support terrorist acts in the United States. The administration defends the regulations as consistent with the original legislation, designed to prevent donations from terrorist governments to groups in the United States, while avoiding the unintended effect of barring virtually all trade. (USIS Washington File, 15 May 1997; Washington Post, 23 January 1997, A1)
January 8, 1997 According to Arab sources, Syria might have been involved in the Dharan military complex bombing, because Jaafar Chueikhat, one of the main suspects, died in Damascus. The US is still investigating the case. (New York Times, 8 January 1997, A15)
April 1997 Information surfaces that months before the June 1996 bombing of the US military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, Syria refused to help Saudi authorities capture a Saudi dissident whom they suspected of planning an attack, and who has now been named a conspirator of the attack. The information appears to confirm Syria's toleration of Middle East terrorism. (Washington Post, 5 April 1997, A26)
July 1997 A bill sponsored by Representative Bill McCollum (R-FL) that would decrease presidential ability to allow financial transactions with terrorist-designated states passes in the House of Representatives. HR 748 would amend section 321 of the Antiterrorism Act of 1996, which gave the executive wide power to allow such dealings. McCollum argues that the administration's "'business as usual' policy represents a step backwards in the effort to isolate Syria and Sudan." The bill stalls in the Senate. (McCollum, 1997; Washington Post, 16 May 1997, A26; Thomas Library world wide web site,
July 29, 1997 The Middle East Economic Survey reports that a $350 million gas project between Syria and Conoco may not go forward because of recent Congressional pressure to tighten sanctions against Syria. Syria considers awarding the contract to a non-US firm, possibly Shell. (Journal of Commerce, 29 July 1997, 12A)
August 1997 Syria and Iraq discuss reopening a long-closed pipeline between the two countries. The Financial Times calls the warming of relations between the two countries "one of the perverse effects-and dangers-of the breakdown in the Middle East peace process." (Financial Times, 25 August 1997, 13)
November 4, 1997 President Clinton tries to stave off the McCollum-Schumer bill, passed by the House 377-33, by imposing broad sanctions against Sudan. (New York Times, 5 November 1997, A7)
November 10, 1997 President Clinton removes Syria and Lebanon from the list of drug producing and shipping countries. The administration attributes the decision to the progress made in poppy plant eradication programs. (Washington Post, 11 November 1997, A25)
March 29, 1998 The Syrian health minister, Iyad al-Shatti, is the first Syrian minister to visit Iraq in 18 years. He brings food and medical aid for the Iraqi populace. (BBC News, 29 March 1998)
Early July 1998 Iraq and Syria agree to reopen an oil line that has not been used in 16 years. State Department spokesperson James Rubin says that reopening of the pipeline is not consistent with UN "food-for oil" arrangement and would require a specific waiver. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 16 July 1998)
July 16, 1998 Seeking increases European involvement in the peace process, Syrian President Assad begins a two-day state visit to France. President Assad says he is willing to restart negotiations with Israel from where talks left off but rejects the Israeli suggestion of new negotiations. Assad and French President Chirac state that any Middle East peace agreement must include the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. (Financial Times, 16 July 1998, 1, 6)
April 2, 1999 Clinton administration imposes sanctions against three Russian firms for supplying antitank weapons to Syria. The administration waives sanctions against the Russian government for national security reasons. (CRS 2003, 9; Washington Post, 7 July 1999, A16)
Late April 1999 Diplomats accuse Syria of violating UN sanctions against Iraq charging that every week hundreds of tankers are smuggling Iraqi oil to Syria outside the oil-for-food framework. (New York Times, 26 April 1999, A6)
July 6, 1999 During two day visit in Moscow Syrian President Assad reportedly seeks to buy $2 billion worth of weapons. US State Department warns that it would cancel $50 million in aid to Russia should the deal be completed. (New York Times, 7 July 1999, A6; Washington Post, 7 July 1999, A16)
December 1999-
January 2000
Two rounds of peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al Shar'a in Washington and West Virginia are suspended because of disagreements over Golan Heights. (CRS 2003, 4; Dow Jones, 30 December 1999; Reuters, 28 January 2000)
June 10, 2000 Syrian President Hafez al-Assad dies. His son Bashar al-Assad succeeds him as president. Despite Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Israeli-Syrian negotiations do not resume. (Washington Post, 11 June 2000, B6; Dow Jones, 27 June 2000; CRS 2003, 5)
November 2000 Iraq reopens pipeline to Syria; Syria is believed to receive about 150,000 barrels a day of Iraqi oil in violation of UN sanctions. (New York Times, 26 November 2000, 4; Financial Times, 2-3 December 2000, 4; Washington Post, 24 January 2001, A8)
Early February 2001 In a largely symbolic move, Syria signs free trade agreement with Iraq. (Economist, 3 February 2001)
Early October 2001 Syrian government expresses regret for 11 September attacks on Washington and New York and offers to share intelligence with US in war on terror. (Wall Street Journal, 2 October 2001, A17, New York Times, 9 October 2001, A8)
February 14, 2002 According to press reports Syria's illegal imports of Iraqi oil have increased over the last year, despite assurances made to Secretary of State Powell in February that it would be brought under UN control. (Washington Post, 14 February 2002, A1, A14)
April 18, 2002 Syria Accountability Act is introduced in the House of Representatives. Bill would codify existing terrorism restrictions on US exports of military and dual use items and financial assistance to US companies dealing with Syria and condition their lifting on Syria halting support for international terrorism, withdrawing from Lebanon, and stopping development of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, bill requires the president to impose two additional measures from a menu of six other sanctions: ban on all exports to Syria, prohibiting US companies from investing in Syria, blocking all transactions in Syrian property, restricting Syrian diplomatic activities in US, restricting travel of Syrian diplomats, and ban on landing and over flight rights of Syrian aircrafts. US Senate introduces companion legislation a few days later. Bush administration opposes proposed legislation stating it "would limit our options and restrict our ability to deal with a difficult regional situation at a particularly critical juncture." (CRS 2003, 14-15; International Trade Reporter, 26 September 2002, 1665)
19 March 2003 US launches invasion of Iraq. Syria strongly opposes US action. (Financial Times, 11 April 2003, 4)
29 March 2003 Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld accuses Syria of providing Iraq with military supplies, including night-vision goggles, in defiance of UN sanctions and warns that Syria will be held accountable if it interferes with US war in Iraq. Syria rejects accusations. (Washington Post, 29 March 2003, A19; Financial Times, 29-30 March 2003, 4)
Mid April 2003 US-Syrian relations further deteriorate as US accuses Syria of providing refuge to senior members of Hussein regime, allowing Islamic fighters to cross the border into Iraq and illegally importing Iraqi oil. Syrian foreign minister Farouk al-Sharaa rejects accusations as “baseless”. Bush administration officials also call on Syria to reconsider its chemical weapons program and its continued support for anti-Israel terrorist groups. Secretary of State Powell says that economic or diplomatic penalties would be considered unless Syria cooperates. (Financial Times, 10 April 2003, 4; Washington Post, 11 April 2003, A36; 15 April 2003, A15; New York Times, 13 April 2003, B7)
12 April 2003 Representative Eliot Engle (D-NY) reintroduces the Syrian Accountability Act (H.R. 1828) calling for an export ban, prohibition of US private investment and restrictions on diplomatic contacts. The bill was shelved the previous year because of objections by the Bush administration. (International Trade Reporter, 24 April 2003, 731; 8 May 2003, 816; Washington Post, 15 April 2003, A15)
16 April 2003 Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld announces US has shut off oil pipeline running between Iraq and Syria. Experts estimate that the shutdown of the oil-smuggling business could cost Damascus between $500 million and $1 billion a year. (New York Times, 16 April 2003, A1; Washington Post, 17 April 2003, A30)
21 April 2003 President Bush sees “positive signs” from Syria with regard to tracking down fleeing Iraqi officials. (Financial Times, 21 April 2003, 3; Washington Post, 21 April 2003, A1)
2-3 May 2003 Meeting with Syrian President Assad in Damascus, Secretary of State Powell highlights the changed strategic environment in the aftermath of US war in Iraq and demands “specific action and performance” on US concerns regarding terrorism, chemical weapons and Iraqi war criminals. Powell warns that Syria could be targeted by sanctions under the 2001 USA Patriot Act and another bill pending in Congress unless it cooperates. President Assad assures Powell that the Syrian offices of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command will be closed. (Washington Post, 3 May 2003, A14; 4 May 2003, A29; New York Times, 4 May 2003, A1; 5 May 2003, A16)
20 November 2003 House passes the amended Senate version of Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act requiring the president to prohibit the export of any dual-use item if Syria does not end its support for terrorist groups, cease support for terrorist activities in Iraq, withdraw from Lebanon, and give up its missile and WMD programs. The president must impose two additional measures from a menu of six other sanctions: banning all exports to Syria, prohibiting US companies from investing in Syria, blocking all transactions in Syrian property, restricting travel of Syrian diplomats, barring Syrian aircrafts from US airspaces; reducing diplomatic contacts; and blocking Syrian assets in the US. The president can waive any or all sanctions if he determines it is in the US national interest to do so. President Bush signs bill into law on 12 December, stating that he views it “as advisory”. (Washington Post, 12 November 2003, A18; 21 November 2003, A10; Inside US Trade, 14 November 2003, 13; 9 January 2004, 15)
10 December 2003 After six years of negotiations, the European Union and Syria conclude negotiation of a association agreement governing economic and political relations between them. In addition to making respect for human rights and democracy essential elements of the agreement, the EU for the first time insists on including weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. EU officials state that talks accelerated because “Syria realized that it had an interest in reaching an accord with the EU, given the US stance.” Agreement is to be officially signed in early 2004. (Financial Times, 11 December 2003, 7; 17 December 2003, 8; European Report, 13 December 2003, 2828)
5 February 2004 American and Israeli officials accuse Syria of having resumed weapons transfers from Iran to anti-Israeli groups based in Lebanon. (New York Times, 6 February 2004, A10)
11 May 2004 President Bush issues Executive Order 13338, implementing the provisions in the Syria Accountability Act, including the bans on munitions and dual use items and two sanctions – the ban on exports to Syria other than food and medicine and the ban on Syrian aircraft landing in or overflying the United States – from the menu of six sanctions. The President also imposed two additional sanctions based on other legislation. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, he instructed the Treasury Department to prepare a rule requiring US financial institutions to sever correspondent accounts with the Commercial Bank of Syria because of money laundering concerns. Under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), he issued instructions to freeze assets of certain Syrian individuals and government entities involved in supporting policies inimical to the United States. (CRS 2006, 15; New York Times, 12 May 2004, 10)
5 January 2005 Press reports indicate that the Administration is considering further limits on financial transactions with Syrian banks. Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice warns that Syria risks “long-term bad relations” with the United States and additional sanctions because of its politics regarding terrorism and Iraq. (CRS 2006, 16; New York Times, 5 January 2005)
April 2005 Syria withdraws its forces from Lebanon in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1559 after coming under suspicion for the 14 February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. (CRS 2006, 5)
30 June 2005 Under Executive Order 13338, the US Treasury Department designates two senior Syrian officials involved in Lebanese affairs as Specially Designated Nationals, thereby freezing any assets they may have in the United States and banning US transactions with them. (CRS 2006, 16)
14 November 2005 The FY2006 Foreign Operations Appropriation Act extends bans on aid to Syria but also requires that at least $6.5 million be made available for programs supporting democracy in Syria and Iran, as well as unspecified amounts of additional funds to support democracy, governance, human rights, and rule of law programs. (CRS 2006, 14)
18 January 2006 Under Executive Order 13338, the US Treasury Department places the Syrian president’s brother-in-law and chief of military intelligence, Assef Shawkat, on the list of Specially Designated Nationals. (CRS 2006, 16)
February 2006 Anticipating tighter US sanctions, Syria changes its reserve currency for foreign trade from the dollar to euro. (Financial Times, 15 March 2006)
15 March 2006 The Department of the Treasury designates the Commercial Bank of Syria, including its subsidiary, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern and orders US banks to sever all ties with the institution by 14 April 2006. (US Fed News, 30 March 2006)

Goals of Sender Country

White House Spokesman Larry Speakes
In November 1986, commenting on adoption of EC measures and announcing imposition of US sanctions: "We believe further steps must be taken to discourage such Syrian behavior and to express our outrage and that of the American people at Syrian sponsorship of this attack against the El Al airliner and its long pattern of support for terrorism." (Washington Post, 15 November 1986, A1)

Ambassador to Syria Edward P. Djerejian
Following release of two American hostages with Syrian assistance: "One shouldn't be euphoric about improved bilateral relations. It's important to continue to work to make progress along a broad front, including combating terrorism, the Arab-Israeli peace process and Lebanon." (Washington Post, 29 April 1990, A24)

National Security Advisor Anthony Lake
"We are thus maintaining sanctions against Syria and have no intention of removing Syria from the terrorism list until and unless it ends its support for these terrorist organizations…The best practical way to end Syria's support for terrorist organizations is through the peace process." (Washington Post, 4 January 1994, A10)

State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns
"To treat Syria as we treat, say, Iran, we think there has to be a distinction. It would be not accurate or fair" to put them in the same group. "Syria, at least as of today, has not rejected the peace process as Iran has done." (Associated Press, 17 July 1997; Journal of Commerce, 11 July 1997, 3A; Associated Press, 17 July 1997)

Secretary of State Colin Powell
"With respect to Syria, of course, we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward… In light of this new environment they should review their behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction but especially the support of terrorist activity." ( Financial Times , 15 April 2003, 4)

Response of Target Country

President Hafez al-Assad
"President Assad has told Washington that he opposes acts of terror like airplane hijackings....; [However,t]he Syrian leader draws a distinction between organizations fighting what he considers legitimate political struggles and instigators of terror." Assad repeatedly denies Syrian government involvement in terrorist incidents, promises to prosecute anyone clearly linked to such activities. (New York Times, 16 July 1989)

Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa
Following release of second US hostage: "I hope this second gesture of goodwill will be met with a similar gesture of goodwill during the process of releasing the rest of the hostages." (Washington Post, 1 May 1990, A1)

Abdullah Dardari, deputy prime minister for economic affairs
On the impact of US economic sanctions introduced in 2003: "I don’t see any serious impact on Syrian/US relations. Since 1986, we have had US sanctions on Syria and it did not affect our business much. They didn’t affect US oil companies coming to Syria. In fact, we have American companies now expressing an interest in investing in Syria, in tourism, real estate and financing." (Middle East Economic Digest, 16 December 2005)

Rateb Shallah, head of the Syrian Chambers of Commerce
On accelerating economic reform: “The leadership realises that the economic performance is crucial at this delicate political stage… We have seen new laws and readiness to cut the bureaucracy [to] attract capital from the outside in recent months. A new stock exchange will only raise inflows.” (Reuters, 16 February 2006)

Attitude of Other Countries

European Community
"Ten of Britain's 11 European Community partners agreed Monday to ban arms sales to Syria and impose other sanctions because of Syria's alleged involvement in an attempt here (London) to blow up an Israeli jumbo jet… Greece, traditionally follows pro-Arab policy, refused to put its signature to a joint statement of EC foreign ministers because of reluctance to condemn Syria publicly. (Chicago Tribune, 11 November 1986, 1)

United Kingdom

UK Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe
"We shall continue to employ all the political means available to us in order to persuade the Syrian authorities to translate into concrete action their stated condemnation of international terrorism,"Howe told a news conference. He said Syria should "end all forms of support for terrorists and "deny them all facilities." (Chicago Tribune, 11 November 1986, 1)

UK Foreign Minister Douglas Hogg
"The UK is willing to see the arms embargo being raised. We accept that the Syrian government is not sponsoring any terrorist activity against any Western government." (Independent, 11 July 1991, 13)

In late October 1986, President François Mitterrand rules out any arms sales to Syria under current circumstances. He reiterates his position that "no compromise can be made with terrorism and especially with countries which indulge in terrorism," but says that concrete evidence of Syria's involvement is necessary before France will consider other sanctions. (Financial Times, 29 October 1986, 1)

Greece endorses those parts of 10 November 1986 statement generally condemning terrorism but refuses to go along with sections specifically naming Syria. Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias argues that "Britain's proposals 'would change the whole political basis of the EC's Middle East policies' and that it was too big a step 'to consider Syria as another Libya.'" (Wall Street Journal, 28 October 1986, 39; Washington Post, 11 November 1986, A1)

Soviet Union
Following West German sanctions against Syria in late November, Soviet news agency Tass says, "the West German sanctions were 'being implemented within the anti-Syrian campaign unleashed by London and inspired by the United States.'" (Washington Post, 28 November 1986, A1)

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman
"We are aware of the Syrian support of terrorism and clearly, this should be cut in line with Syria's international obligations." Turkey is particularly sensitive to Damascus' support of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party. (Turkish Daily News, 16 January 1996)

Economic Impact

Observed Economic Statistics

British Foreign Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe announces after October meeting that UK will block extension of EC financial assistance to Syria under agreement that provided $140 million over five years. Extension, which is to expire at end of October, requires unanimous approval of EC members. (Financial Times, 29 October 1986, 1)

Commerce Department issues licenses for exports to Syria worth $16.4 million in first 10 months of 1986, "mostly computers, communications equipment, and video and recording equipment." Value of export licenses approved in 1988 is $11.4 million; that figure drops to $5.6 million in 1989 when $2.8 million worth of licenses are denied. Syria has not bought aircraft from the West since 1981; Syria's airline does not fly to US, nor do US carriers provide direct service to Syria. US investment in Syria is estimated to be "well under" $200 million, most of that by Pecten Syria Petroleum Co., wholly owned subsidiary of Shell US. (Washington Post, 15 November 1986, A1; International Trade Reporter, 19 November 1986, 1382; US Department of Commerce 1990, 17)

In 1988-89, poor harvests "raised the prospect that Syria will require expensive wheat imports," without being eligible for subsidies under US Export Enhancement Program. (New York Times, 16 July 1989)

"The Bureau of Export Administration denied 50 applications for Syria from FY 1991 through FY 1997. These applications had a total value of $29.76 million." (US Department of Commerce 1997, III-202)

Russia erases $9 billion of $10 billion owed by Syria for past arms purchases, and agrees to sell Damascus $500 million in new weaponry. (Arms Transfers News, Issue No. 94/8, 20 May 1994)

In gratitude for its participation in the Gulf War, Arab, European, and Japanese donors gave Syria nearly $5 billion in economic assistance from 1990-1992. (CIA, 1995)

"Syria's economy began to improve in the early 1990s, largely as a result of the government's economic reforms coupled with a substantial increase in oil production, the agricultural sector's recovery from 1989 drought, and renewed access to aid from other Arab states following Syria's participation in the Gulf War coalition against Iraq. From 1990 through 1993, Syria's economy experienced average annual growth rates in the range of 7 to 8 percent. Oil production nearly quadrupled from 150,000 barrels per day in the mid-1980s to almost 580,000 barrels per day toward the end of 1993." (Bureau of Export Administration 1996, III-25)

US export shortfall to Syria due to foreign policy sanctions was "in the neighborhood of $0.2 billion to $0.3 billion annually." (Richardson 1993, 130)

Syria: Selected Imports, 1983-88 (millions of dollars)

From US
Cereals from EC

n.a. = not available
Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; International Monetary Fund.

According to the 2003 Terrorist Assets Report of the Treasury Department, Syria has an estimated $85 million in assets in the US, including $65 million in securities held by Syrian individuals and entities. (US Department of Treasury, Terrorist Assets Report, 2003,

“The U.S. exports about $275 million in total goods to Syria including $110 million in BIS [Commerce Department, Bureau of Industry and Security] licensed goods.” (Inside US Trade, 9 January 2004, 15)

“The sanctions and political pressure have encouraged some American oil companies to pull out or reduce their presence: US oil giant ConocoPhilips withdrew from Syria in 2004 and Devon Energy of Oklahoma City, Okla., exited last year.” (Christian Science Monitor, 17 May 2006)

Syrian trade with US, 1997–2005 (millions of dollars)


Source: United States International Trade Commission, ITC Trade DataWeb,

Calculated Economic Impact (annual cost to target country)

Reduction in chemical imports; welfare loss estimated at 30 percent of reduction in trade from average annual value, 1983-1985
$1 million
Loss of US wheat export subsidies; welfare loss estimated at 10 percent of average annual value of trade, 1983-1985
$2 million
Reduction in high-technology imports; welfare loss estimated at 30 percent of value of licenses denied, FY1991-1997, annual average cost. [30% of 29.76 value of denied licenses over 7 years]
$1.3 million
$4.3 million

Note: Additional sanctions imposed in 2004–06 barring American exports to Syria other than food and medicine, US-Syrian airline flights, and transactions with Syria's state bank have had negligible impact for several reasons: exports have actually risen, Syrian airlines do not fly to the US, and Syria switched its foreign reserves to the euro.

Relative Magnitudes

Gross indicators of Syrian economy

Syrian GNP (1985)

$ 21.2 billion

Syrian population (1985)

10.3 million
Annual effect of sanctions related to gross indicators

Percentage of GNP


Per capita

Syrian trade with US as percentage of total trade

Exports (1985)


Imports (1985)

Ratio of US GNP (1985: $4,015 billion) to Syrian GNP


Washington Post
"Assad has sought better ties with Washington for more than a year, but his initiative has acquired added urgency in recent months following the upheaval in Eastern Europe and the reforms in the Soviet Union....Syria has seen its military support from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe diminish and its once high-level access there curtailed." (Washington Post, 29 April 1990, A24)

Philip Wilcox, State Department counter-terrorism coordinator
Wilcox acknowledges that US pressure against Syria has "not been entirely successful... We do hold Syria responsible for the presence of these terrorist groups in Damascus. The government of Syria has the capability of closing them down and expelling those terrorists. It has not done so." However, he says the US policy "has had some impact" and he considers it "the right mix of diplomatic persuasion and economic sanctions." (Compass Newswire, 25 July 1995)

Steven R. Weisman, New York Times News Service
“Last May, President Bush banned virtually all American exports to Syria, except for food and medicine, and barred flights between Syria and the United States, except for emergencies. The Treasury Department also moved to freeze assets of Syrians with ties to terrorists, lethal weapons or the Lebanon occupation. But these actions were described even in the administration as symbolic.” (Deseret Morning News, 15 February 2005)

Catherine Hunter, senior analyst, Global Insight
The renewal of US sanctions is largely a formality and there are hopes that increasing Syrian co-operation will change US sentiment on the current measures.” (Global Insight Daily Analysis, 6 May 2005)

Author's Summary

Overall assessment
• Policy result, scaled from 1 (failed) to 4 (success)
• Sanctions contribution, scaled from 1 (negative) to 4 (significant)
• Success score (policy result times sanctions contribution) scaled from 1 (outright failure) to 16 (significant success)
Political and economic variables
• Companion policies: J (covert), Q (quasi-military), R (regular military)
• International cooperation with sender, scaled from 1 (none) to 4 (significant)
• International assistance to target: A (if present)  
• Cooperating international organizations
• Sanction period (years)
• Economic health and political stability of target, scaled from 1 (distressed) to 3 (strong)
• Pre-sanction relations between sender and target, scaled from 1 (antagonistic) to 3 (cordial)
• Regime type of target, scaled from 1 (authoritarian) to 3 (democratic)
• Type of sanction: X (export), M (import), F (financial)
X, F
• Cost to sender, scaled from 1 (net gain) to 4 (major loss)


US economic sanctions played a role in Syria’s decision to assist in obtaining the release of Western hostages in Lebanon and to provide the US with intelligence assistance in the war on terror. The scores in the Overall Assessment reflect these achievements. However, Syria continues to allow anti-Israeli groups to operate on its territory and Lebanon, to obstruct the Middle East Peace process and it opposes the US-led war and occupation of Iraq. Syrian support for and complicity with the Iraqi regime has led to a further deterioration of bilateral relations and the threat of additional sanctions.


Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. 1992. U.S. Economic Sanctions Imposed Against Specific Foreign Countries 1979 to 1992. CRS Report for Congress. 10 August (revised). Washington.

Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. 2003. Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues. CRS Report to Congress. 11 April (Updated). Washington.

Congressional Research Service (CRS). 2006. Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues. CRS Issue Brief for Congress. 26 April (Updated). Washington.

Facts on File. 1985.

Flores, David A. 1981. "Export Controls and the US Effort to Combat International Terrorism." 13 Law and Policy in International Business 521–90.

International Monetary Fund. Direction of Trade Statistics. Various issues.

International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics. Various issues.

McCollum, Bill, R-FL, testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on African Affairs, 15 May 1997.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Foreign Trade by Commodities. Various issues.

US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administration. Annual Foreign Policy Report to the Congress. Washington. Various editions.

Banks, Arthur S., Alan J. Day and Thomas C. Muller, ed. 1997. Political Handbook of the World. Binghamton, NY: CSA Publications.

Day, Erin. 1992. Economic Sanctions Imposed by the United States against Specific Countries: 1979-1992. Washington: Congressional Research Service.

International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1995. Strategic Survey 1994-95. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richardson, J. David. 1993. Sizing Up US Export Disincentives. Washington: Institute for International Economics.

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