LONDON: The US moved to shut off Iranian oil supplies to Syria Tuesday as Washington said Iran’s conduct in the country was part of a “quest to dominate” the Middle East.
New Treasury Department sanctions targeted two Lebanese based firms, which have imported tens of thousands of metric tons of Iranian oil into Syria.
The sanctions focused on Syria’s most prominent tycoon Samer Foz, who has made a fortune luxury developments during the Syrian war.
State Department officials said the action against Synergy SAL and BS Company hit one of Iran’s remaining outlets for oil exports, which have been reduced to a trickle by a crippling US sanctions regime.
“Some of Samer Foz’s activities involved helping the Iranian regime illicitly ship oil to the Assad regime,” special envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn said. “Today’s actions against the Samer Foz network will also put pressure on the Assad regime’s key supporters, such as the Iranian regime and Hezbollah.”
Iran, along with Russia, has been one of the key backers of Bashar Assad during the eight-year Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people. Tehran has supplied military muscle, deploying boots on the ground and arming and financing militias in the country.
Its presence in Syria ensures a territorial link from Tehran to the Mediterranean - something that deeply concerns Arab nations in the region, along with Israel and the US.
America and its allies in the Middle East are trying to make sure Iran will “pull these forces back” from Syria before a UN political solution can proceed, James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, said.
He said this is being done through pressure on the Assad regime and through “talking with the Russians.”
“The Syrian government invited the Iranians in as their allies in the civil war but in addition the Iranians have introduced as they have done in other places, Yemen, Lebanon, long-range weapon systems essentially as part of their hegemonic quest to dominate the Middle East,” Jeffrey said.
The envoy was speaking in Cairo where, as part of a US delegation, he met with Egyptian and Arab League officials to discuss Syria and how to move toward implementing a UN resolution designed to end the conflict.
Meetings between the US and Russia earlier this year offered some hope of progress, but a flare-up in fighting in Idlib province has infuriated the United States.
Hearing word that Russia, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran, are bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria, and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians. The World is watching this butchery. What is the purpose, what will it get you? STOP!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2019
Donald Trump last week voiced his anger at the offensive by Syrian and Russian forces that has killed more than 300 civilians and driven nearly 300,000 people from their homes in the last six weeks.
Idlib province is the last significant territory held by rebels and extremist groups fighting against Assad.
The new US sanctions are probably timed to coincide with the spiralling death toll and humanitarian crisis in Idlib.
The sanctions “target those who are profiting from the misery and murder of the Syrian people,” Rayburn, the Syrian envoy said.
“Any effort at reestablishing or upgrading diplomatic relations or economic cooperation with the Assad regime will only undercut efforts to move toward a permanent, peaceful and political solution to the Syrian conflict.”