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US introduces bill to punish states normalizing ties with Syria

A bipartisan group of American lawmakers have introduced a bill that will prohibit the United States from normalizing diplomatic relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and levy further sanctions on the regional countries resuming their ties with Damascus, amid Washington’s indignation about Syria’s readmission to the Arab League.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Joe Wilson and Steve Cohen as well as several other members of the House on Thursday, would bar “any federal government department or agency from recognizing or normalizing with any government in Syria led by Bashar al-Assad,” and expand on the Caesar Act, which imposed a tough round of sanctions on Damascus in 2020.

The legislation would require “an annual strategy for five years to counter normalization” with the Assad government by the countries which have taken steps to normalize relations with Damascus.

The bipartisan bill would also pave the way for sanctions to be imposed on the countries which engage in energy transactions with Syria and allow Syrian airlines to land in their airports.

“The United States must use all of our leverage to stop normalization with Assad,” Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement on the bill. “I am proud to join my colleagues in mandating further sanctions against any form of investment in territory under the control of Assad.”

The legislation came days after Syria was readmitted to the Arab League, an incident that enraged US officials who intended to keep Syria isolated.

Media reports cited a senior US congressional staffer working on the bill as saying the bipartisan legislation was a warning to Turkey and Arab countries that they could face severe consequences if they engaged with the Assad government.

“The readmission of Syria to the Arab League really infuriated (Congress) members and made clear the need to quickly act to send a signal,” the staffer underlined.

Arab government representatives in Cairo voted on Sunday to return Syria to the Arab League after a 12-year suspension, with all 13 of the 22 member states attending the session endorsing the decision.

The Arab League had suspended the membership of Syria, one of the founding members, in November 2011, at the start of foreign-backed militancy in the country. Syria denounced the move as “illegal and a violation of the organization’s charter.”

Riyadh and Damascus agreed in March to resume diplomatic relations and re-open embassies after more than a decade.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz invited Assad to attend an Arab League summit scheduled to be held in the Persian Gulf kingdom next week.

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