U.S. sticking with 'Plan A' for Syria
Joint UN-Arab envoy to Syria Kofi Annan (L) during a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the presidential palace in Damascus on May 29, 2012.
May 30th, 2012
01:14 PM ET

U.S. sticking with 'Plan A' for Syria

By Jamie Crawford

With the situation in Syria seemingly deteriorating by the day, the United States is doing what it can to pressure Bashar al-Assad to step aside, but that goal is nowhere in sight, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

"As it relates to what Plan B is for Syria, we're still on Plan A," Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. The event was sponsored by the Brookings Institution.

Following a massacre in the Syrian village of Houla this past weekend that left scores of children and villagers dead, McDonough said the United States continues to support the joint United Nations/Arab League plan, led by Kofi Annan, which is deploying monitors into Syria.

But McDonough acknowledged that simply putting monitors in Syria is not going to stop the carnage.

"The Annan plan is part of Plan A, but we're not betting the farm on the Annan plan," he said.

One of the reasons the United States is sticking to the current path is because U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and others have conceded there is no Plan B at this point.

As the violence in Syria enters its 15th month with thousands left dead in its wake, pressure is growing on Capitol Hill for the Obama administration to do more to find a solution that gets al-Assad to leave power.

McDonough said "Plan A" also needs to include a "credible political transition process" that paves the way for al-Assad's exit. That aspect of the plan has been hampered by Russia's reluctance to endorse proposal after proposal put before the U.N. Security Council.

"We don't believe it's in Russia's interest to be associated with the Assad regime," McDonough said, "and certainly it's not in the interest of the region for this kind of barbaric activity to continue."

The United States continues to press Russia both publically and privately to sign on to an internationally accepted transition plan for Syria. And the new president of France, Francois Hollande, has said he will be engaging Russia on the same front in the days and weeks ahead.

Another part of "Plan A" is a multilateral effort led by the United States to strangle al-Assad's economic lifeline though sanctions.

The United States sanctioned a Syrian bank Wednesday that was acting as a front for two previously sanctioned banks in an effort to help those banks circumvent the restrictions, the Treasury Department said.

The government of Qatar announced "corresponding actions," the Treasury Department said, ordering all Qatari financial institutions to cease transactions with the same bank.

"Today's action will add to the economic pressure on the Assad regime by closing off a key evasion route," David S. Cohen, treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a written statement announcing the action. "The Treasury Department, working with others around the world who share our goal of ending the brutal repression of the Syrian people, will continue to close off the Assad regime's access to the international financial system."

The Syria International Islamic Bank had been acting for or on behalf of the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, and the Commercial Bank of Syria, Syria's largest commercial bank, to allow them to evade sanctions imposed on those institutions by the United States, the European Union and the Arab League.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions in August 2011 against the Commercial Bank of Syria, and its subsidiary, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, for their support of Syrian and North Korean proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In a conference call with reporters, Cohen said the Commercial Bank of Syria was once a "key financial lifeline" for the Assad regime.

Through the implementation of additional sanctions targeting the Assad regime by the United States and its allies, Cohen said, the sanctions were having a "very significant impact on the economic situation in Syria," by cutting off the regime's ability to export oil, by far its most significant avenue for government revenues.

The regime has significantly drawn down on its financial reserves Cohen said "without ready means to replenish" them as a result of the ongoing sanctions drive.

In designating the Syria International Islamic Bank on Wednesday, Cohen said, the bank had surreptitiously facilitated financing of almost $150 million on behalf of the Commercial Bank of Syria, while also facilitating several large payments for the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, including a payment to a proliferation entity.

The Treasury Department will host a meeting of the "Friends of Syria," next week in Washington to focus on ways to strengthen existing sanctions, and to discuss further ways to ratchet up the pressure on the Assad regime.

CNN's Jill Dougherty contributed to this report

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Filed under: Assad • Russia • Sanctions • Syria • Treasury • UN Security Council • United Nations
soundoff (303 Responses)
  1. Pasquale Morvillo

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I'll definitely be back.

    June 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  2. Jose

    We should stay as far away from this as we can. We just screw things up, when we get involved. We got involved in Korea, we are still there to this day, and still technically at a state of war. We got involved in Vietnam, and got our a$$ handed to us. We got involved in Iraq, and that place is still a mess. We got involved in Afghanistan, and we are going to be there for decades. Libya is still completely screwed up.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  3. Easyrhino

    After checking out various maps, globes and gps coordinates I learned that Syria is in western Asia. Ergo. WTF business is it of the USA's what goes on there?

    Fifty thousand have been murdered right across our southern border in the last 24-36 months and none of the sociopaths in DC is calling for regime change in Mexico.

    I'm sure the guys in the US Offense Department as well as the MIC won't like it but how about we mind our own business for once?

    May 31, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Reply
  4. Hubert

    I bet Syria is still safer than Miami during the Urban Beach Week.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  5. Ganan

    How complacent is this President going to be??? HELLO-they are killing CHILDREN. Somebody do SOMETHING-God Almighty............Can anybody say Nazi Germany........

    May 31, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • How Stupid Are You ?

      Russia has a military base on Syrian soil.
      This base located on the Mediteranean sea has been stocked with troops and weapons
      supplied by both Russia and Iran.

      For all you morons screaming about Obama doing nothing, what should he do ?
      Establish a no fly zone, and have American jets shot down ?
      Put boots on the ground, and when American soldiers start dying you will scream for Obamas head ?
      Either of thse plans would involve a war with Russia.

      The best plan right now is the one President Obama has.
      Work with other nations on sanctions.

      Nobody wants Syrian children murdered,
      But sending American soldiers to die with them ?

      May 31, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply
      • Hubert

        I agree, they're just arab children after all. We don't want our president's re-election chances ruined by something as trivial as getting involved with this.

        May 31, 2012 at 11:56 am |
      • Renae

        Yes, Hubert, like the hundreds of thousand of dead Iraqis and, before that under the sanctions regime of the Clinton era, millions of dead Iraqi children that Madeline Albright thought were "worth it" to keep Saddam in line. And the fact that the US supports the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza where tens of thousands of kids live in an open air prison, starving to death! Yes, the West surely loves darkie Arab children as much as it loves its own poor black kids (literally) here in the US!

        June 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Renae

      Weell, you see, our president IS doing something....handing out arms to the terrorists who are killing those children, in fact.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  6. the1calleddoc

    Hey CNN! Report the facts. The photos of the "Houla massacre" you show are actual photos of dead IRAQIS from 2003. It has been provide that SUNNI terrorists went house to house in HOULA killing non-sunni muslims and Assad supporters. CNN and other news you have made it to easy for them to turn their terrorist acts into PROPOGANDA for them to show the world and lie about. WAKE UP CNN! HIRE ME! ILL GET YOU THE FACTS AND THE TRUTH!

    May 31, 2012 at 9:30 am | Reply
  7. Ed - Spring, TX

    Plan A: Ignore it and hope it goes away.
    Plan B: Bury our head in the sand.
    Plan C: Do nothing.
    Plan D: ...

    May 31, 2012 at 8:40 am | Reply
  8. walter

    There will never be a plan B. China and Russia are fine with Syria killing babies so the slaughter will continue unabated. Syrians need to agree to what their government wants or continue to be slaughtered – those are the choices.

    May 31, 2012 at 7:58 am | Reply
  9. Dino

    If plan B means the U.S. has to get involved with warfare then it's good that there is no plan B. We have enough nations hating us as it is for trying to help them.

    May 31, 2012 at 7:58 am | Reply
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