Awaiting the Senate and Biden's signature

Anti-Normalization Act: Harsher consequences for al-Assad

After the US House of Representatives passed a bill opposing normalization with al-Assad's regime, the bill will proceed towards the Senate for endorsement before being signed by the US President to become an enforceable law (Edited by Enab Baladi)

Awaiting the Senate and Biden's signature

Anti-Normalization Act: Harsher consequences for al-Assad

After the US House of Representatives passed a bill opposing normalization with al-Assad's regime, the bill will proceed towards the Senate for endorsement before being signed by the US President to become an enforceable law (Edited by Enab Baladi)

After the US House of Representatives passed a bill opposing normalization with al-Assad's regime, the bill will proceed towards the Senate for endorsement before being signed by the US President to become an enforceable law (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Hussam al-Mahmoud | Khaled al-Jeratli | Jana al-Issa

The bill opposing normalization with the Syrian regime passed its first hurdles on its way to legislation on February 14, when the US House of Representatives, by an overwhelming majority from both the Republican and Democratic parties, approved the bill. Now, the legislation awaits passing by the Senate and the signature of the American President, Joe Biden, before it becomes binding.

Although the United States had previously and separately enacted two laws related to the Syrian regime’s practices, one named the “Caesar Act” (June 16, 2020), and the other, the “Captagon Act” (December 23, 2022), the current bill carries more weight in its content than its predecessors, delving into deeper details related to the sanctions imposed on one hand, and the future of normalization with the Syrian regime on the other.

Enab Baladi discusses in this file with researchers and specialists the content of this bill, its future, and the likelihood of it being signed by the American President, Joe Biden, in preparation for its transformation into an enforceable law, along with the future of normalization with the regime, in light of the clauses that prohibit such steps.

What is the content of the law?

With 389 supportive votes against 32 opposing ones, the overwhelming majority of both parties, Republican and Democratic, cast their votes for the Anti-Normalization bill, as stated in a statement from the American Coalition for Syria.

US Representative Joe Wilson is the primary sponsor of the bill, which is also sponsored by 52 representatives (31 Republicans and 21 Democrats), according to data presented on the official website of the Congress (which includes both the House of Representatives and the Senate).

Wilson introduced the bill to the House of Representatives on May 11, 2023, and it was presented to the Foreign Relations Committee on May 16th of the same month after two working days that followed a holiday, with a speed described as “exceptional to the legislative tradition,” and its clauses and details were published on December 27, 2023, on the official website of the US Senate.

Jim Risch and Marco Rubio from the Republican party introduced the bill to the Senate as legislation to expand and enhance the protection of the Caesar Act.

One of its most significant sections focuses on extending the sanctions stipulated by the Caesar Act to protect civilians in Syria until 2032, after it was initially set to expire at the end of the current year.

The clauses of the project reflect on banning any US administration or agency from recognizing or normalizing with any government led by Bashar al-Assad, and establishing an annual strategy to counter normalization with the Syrian regime, targeting countries that have taken steps to normalize with it.

The bill also includes expanding sanctions to cover entities that divert humanitarian aid or confiscate property from Syrians to achieve prosperity or personal gain, as well as extending sanctions to include the Syrian People’s Council and senior officials of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party.

The sanctions apply to energy transactions and the necessity to determine whether Asma al-Assad’s “charitable” institution (The Syria Trust for Development) meets the criteria for sanctions under the Caesar Act.

The law permits the chairman and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate to request a presidential resolution regarding the entities suspected of committing violations of the Caesar Act, with directives for analysis and reporting on United Nations aid that has been redirected to benefit the regime, including through currency manipulation.

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives delivers a speech at the Capitol building - October 25, 2023 (AFP)

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives delivers a speech at the Capitol building – October 25, 2023 (AFP)

From bill to act

Syrian legal expert and Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC), Mohammad al-Abdallah, published through Facebook a video recording summarizing the most important parts of the bill, indicating that the project extends the Caesar Act and expands the sanction systems included.

He added that the Caesar Act was aimed at hindering reconstruction efforts before a settlement in Syria, while the new bill focuses on extending “Caesar” and hindering efforts of normalization with the regime by other countries.

The bill is still awaiting passage by the US Senate before it can be signed by the US President and become effective.

Five sections

The bill is divided into five sections, the first being a title without details, and the second a set of clauses that extend the Caesar Act and expand the entities covered by sanctions. It also focuses on expanding the list of activities that could trigger sanctions against the regime, adding several activities, the most notable being:

  • Illegitimate benefit of the regime from humanitarian aid headed to Syria.
  • Attempts to seize the properties of the Syrian people.
  • A clause directed at the US government demanding the study of imposing sanctions on the Syria Trust for Development, managed by Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma al-Akhras.
  • Opportunity to impose sanctions on all members of the Syrian People’s Council, influential figures in the Ba’ath Party, and their adult family members if they do not distance themselves from the regime’s violations.
  • Determining the commercial transactions that are subject to sanctions, banning transactions with the government of the regime that could have passed through the Caesar Act previously (removing the exemptions).

The third section focuses on banning any US administration from recognizing the Syrian regime since it committed crimes and violations against Syrians and failed to meet the conditions stipulated in the Caesar Act (stopping targeting civilians, schools, and hospitals, and releasing prisoners and revealing the fate of the missing).

It also reaffirmed the United States’ opposition to any party’s recognition of the Syrian regime and the use of sanctions to prevent this recognition, and Washington’s full powers to prevent reconstruction within Syria, including imposing sanctions on countries that might engage in such efforts.

A joint strategy, Eyes on aid

The fourth section of the bill focuses on establishing a joint strategy between US institutions and agencies to confront normalization with the Syrian regime. It requires the US government to provide an annual joint report by its bodies and institutions to Congress on Bashar al-Assad’s efforts towards normalization, and the efforts of other parties to normalize with his regime.

The report is supposed to include the most prominent violations, the most significant efforts to achieve justice, and to encompass diplomatic meetings (at the ambassador level and above) between Syrian officials and a range of regional countries in the area, including Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, most of the Gulf States, and countries of Southern Africa.

The fourth section also calls for including financial transactions of any resident in the mentioned countries with any individual or entity within the areas controlled by the regime if the value of these transactions exceeds 500,000 US dollars in any given year, and to consider the possibility of summoning them for imposing new sanctions.

The US government report to Congress must include a list of sanctions executed under the aforementioned financial transactions, as part of deterring the normalization process with the regime, in addition to analyzing the risks of normalization with the regime on US national security from the angle of Russia and Iran benefiting from it.

As for the fifth section of the bill, it focuses on Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s manipulation of United Nations aid and requests from the US government, in this context, to submit a joint report between its bodies and institutions on the regime’s manipulation of UN aid.

This report should include the difficulties imposed by the regime on UN aid reaching areas outside its control, along with a list of UN staff who have relationships with the regime or its officials, and the conditions imposed by the regime on the United Nations to allow work in specific places.

Additionally, the report must include information on how the regime enriches itself by determining the exchange rate of the US dollar against the Syrian pound in transactions conducted by the United Nations in Syria, and to include the institutions linked to the regime, which directly benefit from the aid provided to Syria, such as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).

The bill calls on the US government to develop a strategy to minimize the regime’s manipulation and its benefit from humanitarian aid provided by the United States.

The American Coalition for Syria is a coalition of specialized and multi-faith US organizations based in the United States, supporting principled American policies regarding Syria, as well as democratic reform, human rights, and justice.

The coalition includes a group of organizations such as Americans for a Free Syria, Free Syria Pac, Kayla’s List Pac, Pro Justice, the Syrian American Council, a group called “Syrian Christians,” the Syria Faith Initiative, and the Syrian Forum in the United States.

According to its official website, the coalition focuses on a range of important issues, including reactivating coordination with allies on Syria, increasing humanitarian aid to “liberated areas,” accelerating the resettlement of Syrian refugees, enforcing and enhancing accountability measures, combating al-Assad’s Captagon trade, and addressing corruption and inefficiency in the aid sector.

The Capitol building, which houses the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate - 2020 (AFP)

The Capitol building, which houses the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate – 2020 (AFP)

The path is not easy

Despite the relatively swift timeline on which the bill against normalization with the Syrian regime has proceeded, the process was not simple for the project’s organizers. The American Coalition for Syria reported holding 327 meetings and visits over several months before reaching this point.

Mohammed Ghanem, the official in charge of political planning at the American Coalition for Syria, explained to Enab Baladi that the approval of the bill did not arise from nothing. It required hundreds of messages, visits, and meetings, and the consensual state reflected in the voting indicated that even the president’s own Democratic party was not satisfied with his policy in Syria and supports not normalizing with al-Assad, despite the US administration’s relaxed stance on normalization in the previous period.

Ghanem told Enab Baladi, “Our work on the bill came in response to the allowance of normalization with the regime, and normalization means making the regime that killed more than a million people seem normal, which is inherently not normal.” He indicated that this step builds for what comes after it, but the remaining steps are not that simple.

Ghanem clarified that getting the resolution to a vote in the Senate would require a lot of work and time, as the work on the bill before it was introduced took about five months, in addition to eight months after it was introduced, without guarantees that the following steps would be certain or inevitable, as they need continuous follow-up and work, since approval in the House of Representatives does not mean immediate transition to the Senate.

Regarding the expected time frame for completing the remaining steps leading to approval, Ghanem explained that there is no specific date set to achieve the expected result, confirming that things are moving at a high speed, but legislative bodies are designed to work slowly, to consider different aspects of the issue, and to avoid making rash decisions that may be harmful. The work on the Caesar Act took about three and a half years before it was approved.

“We didn’t seek to propose the project in the House of Representatives until we were assured that it could be approved by an overwhelming majority because going to the vote and causing a sharp conflict between the two parties, or failure to approve would be a political catastrophe for the Syrian file,” added Ghanem, noting at the same time that steps precede the voting in the Senate, which is first presenting it to the relevant committee in the council, entering into negotiations in this context, and then the vote.

The regime and its supporters are affected

Regarding the expected impacts of the bill if it is approved and enacted after the US president signs it, the official in charge of political planning at the American Coalition for Syria believes that the impacts it will carry will be significant, as it will extend the Caesar Act for a long period. Most of the normalizing countries revolve politically in the United States’ orbit, and when the topic becomes law, it will impede the normalizers’ work. It does not only fight normalization with the Syrian regime at the domestic level in the United States but also requires combatting it externally.

Although the law may not entirely eliminate the phenomenon of normalization, it is highly effective due to the political weight and the strength of sanctions by the United States, which frightens some countries or threatens their gains, according to Mohammed Ghanem. He pointed out that contracts for reconstruction and returning to how things were are no longer possible under this law, explaining why various parties tried to thwart the bill from the beginning.

In 2023, the relations of some Arab states with the Syrian regime took a different form, which became clear after the earthquake on February 6, 2023, followed by Arab visits and meetings with the head of the Syrian regime for the first time since the Syrian revolution began, in preparation for his return to the Arab League in May of the same year.

Over time, the image of some of the forming relationships in the post-earthquake phase with the regime became clearer, as the UAE strengthened its presence and support for the regime, and Saudi Arabia hosted al-Assad in the first summit he participated in since 2010, with both countries recently raising the level of diplomatic representation with Damascus.

Jordan, on its part, is trying to maintain constant contact with the regime amid a border threat characterized by the nightmare of drugs, noting a handshake between al-Assad and the Jordanian king during their participation in the emergency Arab-Islamic summit on Gaza, in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in November 2023.

The strategic expert and non-resident researcher at the Stimson Center in Washington, Amer al-Sabaileh, explained to Enab Baladi that passing the Anti-Normalization bill, and its transformation into a law, would constitute a new dilemma if it happened. If the trend towards communicating with al-Assad is part of an Arab strategy to face the dangers resulting from the deepening crisis in Syria, such as terrorism and drugs, and not to leave Syria prey to Iran, then all these factors come to an end.

Commenting on the US stance toward attempts to include al-Assad in the Arab fold, which manifested itself in non-encouragement, al-Sabaileh sees that what was asked of others to be cautious with the relationship with the regime has turned into law.

“There will be consequences for everyone, especially Washington’s allies, as they may find themselves compelled to take into account that such steps could have implications on the relationship or the imposition of sanctions,” added the strategic expert, considering the bill an attempt to translate what the United States was saying in closed rooms about the political direction towards Damascus. Today, it says it openly and moves the crisis into the Syrian interior.

Speaking of not normalizing with a government led by Bashar al-Assad means an American return to escalation in the file after a state of reluctance and unwillingness to put pressure in this regard, making the project a turning point that could pose future difficulties for the United States’ allies, according to the strategic expert, Amer al-Sabaileh.

No sanctions, Political pressures affecting normalization

According to an analysis issued by the Syrian Dialogue Center on February 25, regarding the adoption of the bill against normalization with al-Assad’s regime, the legislative step came after a period of events which could be considered in the interest of the regime, and it provided a “cautious” dose of optimism for upcoming changes favorable to the Syrian file. This reflected positively on the Syrian diaspora’s efforts to exert pressure and advocate, in addition to focusing on the presence of serious indicators to tighten the noose on normalization pathways, or at least to drain them of their economic and political effects if the bill turns into an enforceable law.

Dr. Ahmad Qurabi, a legal expert and researcher at the Syrian Dialogue Center, explained to Enab Baladi that there is a fundamental principle in international law that the relationship between states is based upon, which is the principle of sovereignty, as one state cannot impose certain actions on another state. If the law is approved, it is primarily addressing the United States and its government, asking the American administration to monitor engagements conducted by the regime, reflecting a form of political pressure since the law does not punish states that normalize with the regime but rather pressures them.

The researcher believes that the current text of the law does not impose penalties on the states that politically normalize with the regime, nor does it legally limit the state of normalization, but to some extent, it could have that effect politically. The American laxity on the issue of normalization with the regime is what encouraged some states to take this step. Therefore, a hardline stance by the American administration would cause some states to retreat from certain steps if there is such an American will.


Legally, there are no sanctions on states that will politically normalize with the regime, but there will be pressure on the American administration to get tough in imposing these sanctions, which will affect the efforts of political normalization.

Dr. Ahmad Qurabi, legal expert and researcher at the Syrian Dialogue Center


According to Qurabi, what is different in the law is its restriction on the discretionary power of the United States. Usually, the lawmaker sets fundamental objectives, leaving the administration to choose the means of implementation. However, the current law project pressures the American administration and does not allow laxity in application, which will inevitably affect the Syrian regime if it is indeed imposed in its current form without any modifications.

US Department of State: We support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people

A responsible source in the US Department of State told Enab Baladi that the position of the US administration remains clear, stating, “We will not normalize relations with al-Assad’s regime without achieving genuine progress towards a lasting political solution to the underlying conflict.”

In response to a question about what is new in the Anti-Normalization Act, the source refused to comment, stating that the Department does not comment on pending legislation. However, it expressed an understanding of some Arab countries’ desire to use direct communication with the Syrian regime to make further progress in resolving the Syrian conflict.

The source also cast doubt on Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to take necessary steps to resolve the “Syrian crisis”.


We share many objectives with our Arab partners regarding Syria, and we continue to convey to them the necessity of pressing for real progress in a comprehensive political process, and accountability regarding Bashar al-Assad’s regime-violations and excesses of human rights.

A responsible source in the US Department of State


The source reiterated the official US position that considers the political solution as outlined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution No. “2254” as the only viable solution for the Syrian conflict, which the United States, its allies, partners, and the United Nations work to implement.

It added that the United States “remains committed to the political solution to the Syrian conflict, accountability for human rights violations, and promoting security and stability to ensure that the Islamic State does not re-emerge, supporting the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for peace, security, stability, and working to reduce violence and preserve the ceasefire.”

According to the source, the United States will continue to support the Syrian people and work to alleviate their suffering, using all means available to advocate for access to humanitarian aid and provide assistance to Syrians in need.

Session of the US House of Representatives - March 1, 2022 (Reuters)

Session of the US House of Representatives – March 1, 2022 (Reuters)

Will the US President sign it?

The project moved quickly through the US legislative channels, having been endorsed by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in May 2023, when the wave of Arab normalization with the regime was at its peak, leading to the regime’s reinstatement in the Arab League during that period.

In light of an upcoming US presidential election set to take place in November, along with discussions of some parties’ attempts to obstruct the project, these factors do not guarantee the bill is immune from possible obstacles or hindrances before it makes its way to the signature of the US President.

A former advisor at the US Department of State, Hazem al-Ghabra, said that there are no internal issues with a law like this, in the context of a Democratic-Republican consensus on the broad lines of the Syrian file.

Al-Ghabra further explained to Enab Baladi that there are two viewpoints related to the normalization issue. The first is a continuous American approach that involves removing the Syrian regime and not giving it any additional opportunities, economically suffocating it, which is the best weapon the United States has against the regime.

The other perspective, adopted by some Arab states, is that isolating the regime is not possible as long as Iran is its ally; consequently, it is essential to work with the regime one way or another to avoid Iranian monopoly. However, according to al-Ghabra, the American direction will not change at this time, especially with more pressing issues at hand for Washington at the moment, such as the Israeli war on Gaza (since October 7, 2023), and the Russian invasion of Ukraine (since February 25, 2022).

The former State Department advisor sees these sanctions as more economic than political, focusing on preventing the regime from accessing new resources, as they would be used to extend its lifetime on one hand, and on the other hand, are contrary to the interests of the Syrian people.

Anticipated efforts to ease the impact

To foresee the obstacles that might hinder the transition of the Anti-Normalization with the Regime from a bill to a law, it is worth looking at attempts to undermine the enforcement of the Caesar Act whose impact would increase substantially if the aforementioned law is enacted. There are political challenges and others linked to the lobbying powers of certain countries trying to mitigate the law’s impact, as seen by the political researcher and director of research at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Maan Talaa.

Talaa explained to Enab Baladi that these impediments occur on two principal levels. The first one is the US administration’s perception of the sanctions, treating them only as a political tool, without accompanying them with a package of executive decisions, as happened with the Caesar Act which was followed by several exemptions, in addition to the declining momentum of decisions issued under the Caesar Act.

The second level is tied to the movement of some Arab states that view this law as an impediment to the region’s stability for reasons not connected to the Syrian regime but to the national security of these states. Hence, they will likely attempt to alleviate the severity of certain provisions during the next stages of the Anti-Normalization bill’s endorsement and make them more flexible.

Talaa pointed out the possibility of increasing campaigns pressuring the US administration and Senate to soften some of the law’s articles. In addition, the voting result on the bill in the US House of Representatives reflects the existence of a political current opposing normalization with the regime. This could be echoed in the Senate vote, which might receive a similar support rate, suggesting probable ratification of the Anti-Normalization as a law.

In addition to movements by some countries allied with the regime, Western organizations supporting the regime are active in decision-making fora, aiming to achieve political rapprochement between Damascus’s narrative of “fighting terrorism” and the western public opinion.

Previous critics

In June 2022, the US Senate held a hearing on Syria chaired by the Democratic Senator and Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, titled “Moving Forward with American Syrian Policy: Strategy and Accountability”.

During the session’s opening remarks, Menendez inquired about the Biden administration’s strategy in Syria, indicating that the frozen conflict results in enormous humanitarian, political, and security dilemmas amid lax American leadership, according to his expression.

Meanwhile, the Republican Senator Jim Risch stated that the policy of economic and diplomatic isolation imposed by the United States on Syria to enforce a political solution has begun to crumble, expressing his concern that the administration has implicitly accepted al-Assad’s rule as an imposed outcome. “I fear that this administration is implicitly agreeing to engage with the regime,” he said.

Risch added, “I’m deeply concerned about the administration’s funding of so-called (early recovery) projects in areas controlled by the regime. These activities blur the line against reconstruction banned by (the Caesar Act), and they open the door to normalization with al-Assad.”


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