Background Briefing on Easing of U.S. Economic Sanctions In Support of the Syrian People
MODERATOR: Hello, everybody. Thanks for joining us this afternoon. Again, I just want to remind you this is on background. We have with us today two senior Administration officials. The first official is [Senior Administration Official One]. And our second Senior Administration Official is [Senior Administration Official Two].
And so with that, I’ll just hand it over to [Senior Administration Official One] for brief remarks, and then we’ll open it up for questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, thank you very, very much for joining us today on this call. I really just wanted to take just a couple of minutes to provide a short brief on several actions the Administration is taking today to ease sanctions in opposition-controlled areas of Syria for the benefit of the Syrian people.
We’re – the Department of State, the Department of Treasury, and the Department of Commerce are taking three actions today to ease the economic sanctions in those opposition areas of Syria. The first action we’re taking today is that Secretary of State John Kerry signed a limited waiver of the Syria Accountability Act which will authorize the export or re-export of certain U.S.-origin items to liberated areas of Syria for the benefit of the Syrian people.
Currently from the United States you can export certain food and medicine to Syria. The action we’re taking today will allow U.S. companies and persons to export, subject to case by case review by the Commerce Department, a wide range of reconstruction-related equipment to opposition areas. Some examples of the kinds of equipment that could be authorized for export include a variety of agricultural equipment, equipment related for power generation, as well as water supply and sanitation type equipment to those liberated areas. This is not a general license we’re taking today, but rather U.S. companies interested in engaging in these kinds of exports will be able to apply to the Department of Commerce for license to export those kinds of goods. We see this action as a way of providing some concrete material benefit to people in those liberated areas because of the needs for reconstruction in those areas.
Related to that action today, Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC, is issuing a Statement of Licensing Policy which will allow – encourages U.S. people to apply to OFAC for specific licenses that’ll enable U.S. persons to engage in certain activities in Syria. In particular, the Statement of Licensing Policy invites people to apply for licenses to engage in oil-related transactions for the benefit of Syrian opposition, including facilitating the export of oil from Syria for the benefit of the Syrian opposition, also to provide support to Syria’s agricultural and telecommunications sectors. People wishing to engage in other kinds of transactions, particularly in liberated areas, within the scope of the Statement of Licensing Policy, are also invited to apply for licenses.
And finally, we’re amending a general license, General License 11, that’ll authorize additional NGOs to engage in activities to preserve cultural heritage sites and the cultural patrimony of Syria.
I think, broadly speaking, we see the actions we’re taking today as providing an important benefit for the people of Syria and for the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the opposition within Syria. As I said, the actions we’re taking today do still require companies interested in engaging in these transactions to come in and get specific licenses. That ensures that relevant U.S. governments can review specific transactions to make sure that specifically sanctioned entities aren’t able to participate in those transactions and that those transactions are actually for the benefit of the Syrian people.
We’ve worked closely with the Syrian opposition across a range of issues over the last year or two. We do see this as a very important area for us to be able to continue working with them to provide a variety of additional economic – with the actions today, provide some easing of the economic sanctions in place in those opposition-controlled parts of Syria and for the benefit of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.
I think with that, [Senior Administration Official Two], unless you have anything you’d like to add, maybe we should open it up for questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Fine to go ahead and open it up for questions. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official One]. You’ve covered it.
MODERATOR: Operator, can we get the first question? Thank you.
OPERATOR: And once again, if you have a question, please press *1 at this time. And our first question comes from the line of Jill Dougherty at CNN. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Thanks – (call interrupted).
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Jill, I can’t hear you.
OPERATOR: It looks like she got disconnected. Let me pull up the next one. And that will be from Emily Cadei at CQ Roll Call. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. This is Emily Cadei. Thanks for doing to the call. I just wanted to get a sense from you guys about whether this is more being proactive, given the fact that there might be future demands for reconstruction materials, or if you’re actually getting demands from the Syrian opposition on the ground right now, if there’s things that are actually going on right now that these actions today that Commerce, Treasury, et cetera have taken will actually facilitate or that have been held up until this action will be taken.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I can’t comment on specific cases companies have brought to us, but I will say there have been a number of specific instances of companies from the U.S. that wanted to send equipment to opposition-controlled parts of Syria and consistent with supporting the Syrian people. In particular, there is a recent case of a company that wanted to send some water purification equipment to Syria that was not previously authorized and that we would now – the Department of Commerce would now be able to authorize that export. And we’ve heard a variety of other cases about that. So I would say this is both to address specific concerns that have come in, and it is also very much prospective, because we expect there to be more and more need and more and more demand for these kinds of goods and services going forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Howard LaFranchi, Science Christian Monitor. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hi. Thanks for doing this. I’ve got to ask the question: Does this have any impact on U.S. companies that might want to sell arms to the opposition?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Today we are talking about easing economic sanctions in support of the opposition. And the actions taken today don’t affect existing regulations related to providing arms or other lethal items to Syria. The actions do not affect those kinds of issues.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Jill Dougherty, CNN. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi. Back again after a technical glitch. Sorry about that. I just wanted to make sure, these – when a company comes to you or to whichever agency – excuse me – and wants to export something, do they have to show that it’s going to a particular area? Is that how it would be defined? In other words, how do you keep it for the Syrian people in, let’s call it opposition-controlled areas, as opposed to anything that might be controlled by the regime? Sorry if you’ve already answered that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think, Jill – and I’m glad you managed to solve the technical glitch. I appreciate the question from you. Look, I think certainly we would want companies to be looking at who the end user is, and we’re looking for as much information about where it’s going as possible. We also have a regular dialogue with the Syrian Opposition Coalition. We will be in dialogue with them on many of these issues as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I think from the Treasury perspective we would also look at – in all of these, we look at all of the facts and circumstances involved in the transaction so there’s not just one factor that we’d look at in terms of where the article or services might go, but everything involved to make sure that it supports our national security and foreign policy goals.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Operator, can we see if there’s other calls? Thank you.
OPERATOR: Once again, if you have a question please press * then 1 at this time. And our next question comes from the line of Margaret Brennan, CBS. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, it’s Margaret Brennan. Thank you for doing this. And I’m joining the call late because of a technical issue, so forgive me if I’m repeating a question here. But if you can explain – I mean, who do you see as becoming now the chief exporters here? Can you break it down by actual demand? I mean, what does this actually facilitate the transfer of?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So I am – let me first say, this is not just about exports from the United States. The statement of licensing policy from OFAC would also let U.S. persons engage in – help facilitate oil sales from opposition-controlled areas for the benefit of the Syrian people, also engage in agricultural-related projects in those areas and other kinds of economic transactions for the benefit of the Syrian people in those opposition-controlled areas, even where there isn’t an export from the United States. This is actually a broader series of actions we’re taking today than just focusing on the export of U.S.-origin goods.
I think we really see a wide range of potential of both actions that we would have liked to have seen happen to date already and actions we see going forward, including the ability to provide U.S. companies to sell water purification, agricultural equipment, other kinds of reconstruction-related equipment to Syria. We also see, potentially, participation of U.S. persons in those other kinds of activities that can be licensed to do for the benefit of the Syrian people.
So I don’t think this is just about benefiting one sector or one particular kind of good or product. I think this really is a series of actions we’re taking today to make sure that a wide range of reconstruction-related activities, services, and products are available in opposition-controlled areas for the benefit of the SOC and the Syrian people.
QUESTION: So this is more for theoretical future demand?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, I think – sorry you were – Margaret, that you’re joining the call late. I mean, we have had a number of instances to date over the last couple of months where there have been things we would have liked to have allowed that we couldn’t prior to this action, have allowed – to give an example I touched on briefly earlier a major company – a major American manufacturer was hoping, pursuant to a request from a major international organization, to be able to deliver some water purification equipment into Syria that we could not authorize prior to the actions we’re taking today. Going forward, we could authorize that kind of action.
And we’ve also had a number of other instances of kinds of things that we would like to be able to authorize for the benefit of the Syrian opposition, the Syrian people, that we couldn’t to date having done, but that we will be able to do from today on pursuant to the actions taken today.
OPERATOR: Once again, if you have a question, please press *1 at this time. And our next question comes from the line of Paul Handley, AFP. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Paul Handley from AFP. What’s the potential for them selling oil? What kind of volumes are we talking about? And what else could they be selling soon and quickly and at significant volumes and value to export outside and export to the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I’m not going to be able to give you a figure on volumes of oil exports. Clearly, there are a variety of issues related to infrastructure and oil export infrastructure in Syria. But this is an issue that the Syrian opposition has been and is quite interested in, and we look forward to seeing the kinds of specific applications that come in to engage in those kinds of transactions.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Nicole Gaouette, Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this call. I wanted to ask about how these contracts would be paid for and whether they will in any way be tied to some of the humanitarian aid that the U.S. has been offering rebels.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, this is – the actions we’re taking today are separate from U.S. Government-provided assistance to the opposition. This is really about enabling the opposition to work with private sector, work with international organizations, work with NGOs to provide additional support reconstruction activities in those areas beyond what the U.S. is providing from the U.S. Government directly.
OPERATOR: And there are no more questions in queue at this time. Please go ahead.
MODERATOR: Okay. If there are no more questions, we’ll end it there. Thank you all very much for joining the call. We appreciate it. Good afternoon.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you.
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