US 'not letting up' on Syrian Captagon trade, congressman says

House foreign affairs committee endorses legislation cracking down on Assad family connections to drug trade

French Hill speaks at a vigil for Israel on the steps of the US House of Representatives. AP
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Washington is “not letting up pressure” on combating Syria's role in the Captagon trade in the Middle East, despite escalating regional tension, the congressman leading the US drive against the drug has told The National.

Republican French Hill, who has spearheaded Captagon legislation in Washington, spoke to The National on Thursday after his Illicit Captagon Trafficking Suppression Act cleared a key hurdle in the House Foreign Affairs Committee with unanimous support.

The bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Jared Moskowitz, would impose new sanctions on people and networks associated with the production and trafficking of the drug.

“These things signal that the US is not letting up our pressure on [President Bashar Al Assad's] regime to come to the table to take a different approach in the situation in Syria, and I think it's important send that message to the region,” Mr Hill said.

It received support from the committee's senior Democrat Gregory Meeks after including language allowing for humanitarian waivers on new sanctions.

He said President Joe Biden's administration has “taken steps to improve” Washington's co-ordination with its partners on Captagon, but “much more can be done”.

“The bipartisan amendment ensures legitimate humanitarian work can continue, while making sure that these additional sanctions are targeted and effective,” Mr Meeks told the committee at the bill's mark-up hearing this week.

Mr Hill said: “Using the best open source intelligence that's been released … we've identified key actors in the Lebanese and Syrian region that we believe are easily and well-documentedly responsible for the Captagon trade.”

Maher Al Assad, brother of the Syrian President and leader of an elite brigade in the Syrian military, is among those to be designated under the legislation.

Previously, Mr Hill sponsored the Captagon Act, which mandates that the State Department, the Pentagon and other federal agencies devise a strategy against narcotics production and trafficking networks linked to the Assad regime.

The congressman said this new legislation is “a good step” in boosting US efforts “assisting of the region in eradicating Captagon”.

“It also sends the signal that we are committed to keeping the pressure on the Assad regime … and also providing a major voice that one of the goals that the Arab League stated that they were attempting to achieve through their normalisation process with Assad,” he added.

Arab countries allowed Damascus back into the Arab League in May after a 12-year absence in hopes of addressing Syria's refugee crisis engaging with the Assad regime to curb the Captagon trade.

Mr Hill said this new legislation “has a diplomatic, important contribution to the Arab League's efforts to also put pressure on the Assad regime for policy and major changes that they want to see the Assad regime accomplish”.

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Updated: November 09, 2023, 7:55 PM