By Jill Dougherty
As the Obama administration debates further help for besieged Syrian opposition fighters, it is moving to aid Syrian civilians in opposition-controlled areas in rebuilding shattered towns and villages.
U.S. officials announced Wednesday they are easing economic sanctions on Syria, allowing the importation of equipment and technology into liberated areas of Syria. The steps are being coordinated through the Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury.
Secretary of State John Kerry signed a limited waiver of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 that authorizes the export , subject to case-by-case review, of certain U.S. items.
They include commodities, software, and technology related to water supply and sanitation; agricultural production and food processing; power generation; oil and gas production; construction and engineering; transportation; and educational infrastructure.
Companies can apply to the Department of Commerce for licenses to provide those materials. Current sanctions allow the export of food and medicine without a license and medical devices are covered under an existing waiver.
The Treasury Department also will allow Americans to apply for specific licenses that would enable them to participate in certain economic activities in Syria such as oil-related transactions that benefit the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, or its supporters, and transactions involving Syria's agricultural and telecommunications sectors
Treasury also is amending its regulations to authorize the export of services and transfer of funds in support of not-for-profit activities to preserve Syria's cultural heritage sites.
A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the waivers, said the action is aimed at addressing specific concerns that have come in as well as "because we expect there to be more and more need and more and more demand for these kinds of goods and services going forward."
The official said the waiver does not affect existing regulations related to providing arms to the Syrian opposition.
Kerry, speaking with reporters at the State Department Wednesday after meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, said he had "no new announcements" on any potential decision by President Barack Obama to arm the Syrian opposition.
"I think that there's a unanimity about the importance of trying to find way to peace, not a way to war," he said. "
"The Assad regime is making that very difficult. We will be, as everybody knows and has written about, we're meeting to talk about the various balances in this issue right now. I have nothing to announce about that at this point," Kerry said.
"But clearly the choice of weapons that (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) is engaged in across the board challenge anybody's values and standards of human behavior and we're going have to make judgments for ourselves about how we can help the opposition to be able to deal with that," he said.