WASHINGTON

The US is no longer demanding Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad step down from office, and is instead seeking a radical change in the regime’s behavior, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for the country’s conflict said Monday. 

“We are not demanding total victory. We are not saying that Assad has to go,” Ambassador James Jeffrey said during a virtual conference hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Institute think tank.  

Instead, Jeffrey said, Washington wants to see “a dramatic shift in the behavior of this regime as we have seen seldom in the world.” He referenced in particular the major overhaul of the Japanese government following its defeat in World War II.

“That’s the kind of reform we need to see, whether that can happen under this leader and the people around him we don’t know,” he said.

The remarks are a far cry from the regime-change demands previously voiced by the US that “Assad must go.”

The comments come after the US last week announced new sanctions on the Syrian regime, targeting 39 new entities under the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2019, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December.

The act is named after a Syrian military photographer who leaked tens of thousands of gruesome images that showed 11,000 victims systematically tortured to death by the government. The photographs showed evidence of starvation, beating, strangulation, and other forms of torture.

The US has designated for sanctions the “architect of suffering” Bashar Al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad as well as “funder of these atrocities Mohammed Hamsho and Iranian militia Fatemiyoun Division.”

It has further sanctioned Maher al-Assad, along with his Fourth Division of the Syrian Arab Army and its leadership Ghassan Ali Bilal and Samer al-Dana. Lastly, the US designated Bushra al-Assad, Manal al-Assad, Ahmad Sabir Hamsho, Amr Hamsho, Ali Hamsho, Rania al-Dabbas, and Sumaia Hamcho.

The sanctions expose anyone who does business with the designated individuals to follow-on economic penalties, and concerns have been raised that they could further stymy Syria’s re-development from the nearly decade-long conflict that has ravaged wide swaths of the country.

Jeffrey maintained the US is not seeking to worsen the situation, but ensure the regime’s upper echelons are unable to profiteer from the conflict.

“Our goal is not to torpedo the economy. Believe me, Assad is more than capable of doing that himself,” he said. “He is doing a terrific job of pushing the pound into irrelevance and undercutting whatever is left of the Syrian GDP. Rather, it is to inflict real pain on those people around the side and get them to understand this pain doesn’t go away until they change their policies.”

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