The United States on Tuesday lifted sanctions against former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab, who defected earlier this month, as it urged more top officials to abandon the regime.
In a move aimed at convincing members of the inner circle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime that they have not been permanently blacklisted, the US Treasury Department unfroze Hijab’s assets.
“This action is being taken because Hijab is no longer a senior official of the government of Syria,” the Treasury said in a statement.
“The United States encourages other officials within the Syrian government, in both the political and military ranks, to take similarly courageous steps to reject the Assad regime and stand with the Syrian people,” Treasury official David Cohen said.
The United States has pressed members of Assad’s inner circle to abandon the regime, hoping that defections can bring about its collapse and an end to the increasingly bloody conflict in the heart of the Middle East.
Neither the government nor the rebels appear able to win a decisive military victory, and there seems little prospect of a Western military intervention given the Assad regime’s close ties to Russia.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the lifting of sanctions on Hijab did not preclude a potential decision by a post-Assad Syrian government to pursue charges against him.
“This is not a judgment about his accountability, which is something for the Syrian people to decide,” Nuland told reporters.
“This is a judgment about whether he should continue to be subject to sanctions which are designed to squeeze the regime until it stops its bloody offensive,” she said.
“This guy is no longer part of that offensive, and so he should not be subject to sanctions.”
The United States, hoping to end the bloodshed that activists say has killed more than 23,000 people, has repeatedly warned Syrian officials and troops that they will be held responsible for attacks on civilians.
In April, the United States said it was offering an initial $1.25 million to create the “Syria Accountability Clearinghouse,” which will document alleged abuses during the conflict and train investigators and prosecutors.