BEIRUT: US State Department Special Envoy for Syria Joel D. Rayburn asserted Tuesday that the Caesar Act would not grant exemptions on the basis of friendship.
In a webinar conference hosted by the Center for Global Policy in Washington, he brushed aside concerns regarding the act's impact on Lebanon.
The act, which came into force last month and aims to economically isolate President Bashar Assad's regime through sanctions, has raised questions about its possible effect on Lebanon. Some wonder if Lebanon can expect any exemptions, given its close, albeit multi-faceted, relationship to Syria. A part of this relationship is the purchase of Syrian electricity. There is a concern that the act may restrict Lebanon's ability to import electricity from Syria and whether waivers could be introduced, such as those granted to Iraq to import oil from Iran.
Despite the especially frequent electricity shortages in recent days, Rayburn gave no indication that granting Lebanon electricity waivers was likely, instead pointing to the need for a fundamental overhaul of the sector in Lebanon. "Electricity from the Assad regime is not going to save the Lebanese electricity sector," Rayburn asserted, describing it as a "bandage that is just going to create more problems."
Another question is whether the use of Syrian supply routes to export Lebanese goods will be restricted by the act. But again Rayburn brushed over this as largely inconsequential. "Lebanese exports are minuscule. I do not think Lebanon's immediate problems today are exports via Syria. That is not going to make or break Lebanon's current situation." However Rayburn did offer some nuance, admitting that such questions of trade cannot be answered in a "blanket way."
"We have to look at what is being exported, what is the business setup, where is it being exported to and by whom," adding that if businesses are dealing with entities linked to Maher or Asma Assad for example [the Syrian president's brother and wife], then sanctions would be imposed.
Asked whether the US would consider measures against the Lebanese government for its failure to clamp down on Hezbollah-linked smuggling, Rayburn expressed hope such measures would not be necessary. "I think we all hope it doesn't come to that," Rayburn responded, explaining the US approach of making absolutely clear to allies what would constitute a violation of the act.
"We want to work with you," Rayburn said in reference to regional allies, "so you do not cross the line into sanction-able activity. So let us talk about winding down practices and businesses that would violate the act and make sure you guys are clear on what has to be done," he continued. "I hope the Lebanese business community does not put us in that position where we have to sanction them but no one has the friend exemption. The law is the law," he insisted.