U.S. Tells Syria That it Will Process Eligible Export License Applications as Quickly as Possible
There were various news reports today, including some from Syria, indicating that the U.S. Government had advised Syria that it was lifting sanctions or issuing waivers on the export of U.S.-origin parts and components for civil aircraft "as well as the embargo on exporting communications and information systems equipment and technology to Syria, including software, hardware and internet-related equipment."
This information is not entirely correct. According to a White House spokesman, in a meeting in Damascus on Saturday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, George Mitchell, the Obama Administration's Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, said that the Obama Administration "would process all eligible applications for export licenses to Syria as quickly as possible."
As a result of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act of 2003 (SAA), the U.S. currently prohibits the export to Syria of any items that appear on the United States Munitions List or Commerce Control List, the export to Syria of U.S.-origin products (other than food and medicine) and aircraft owned or controlled by the Syrian government from taking off from or landing in the United States.
Despite these prohibitions, General Order No. 2, issued by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) in May 2004 to implement the SAA, states that BIS may consider license applications to export six types of items to Syria on a case-by-case basis, including: medicine (listed on the CCL) and medical devices; parts and components intended to ensure the safety of civil aviation and the safe operation of commercial passenger aircraft; and telecommunications equipment and associated computers, software and technology.
BIS and the other U.S. government reviewing agencies involved in the export licensing process have consistently approved licenses to export controlled medicines and medical devices to Syria on a regular basis and in a fairly timely manner since the SAA went into effect. (According to BIS data for 2008 the agency approved 247 licenses, returned without action 91 license applications and rejected 3 applications. The average license processing time in 2008 was 25 days.)
However, the same is not always true of other types of eligible products, such as aircraft components and telecommunication products. U.S. export data issued by the Census Bureau indicates that during 2004 to 2008 BIS approved on a case-by-case export license applications to Syria for other types of eligible products in very limited numbers.
While the Obama Administration's decision to process eligible applications for export licenses to Syria "as quickly as possible" is a positive development for certain U.S. industries, it certainly does not rise to the level of the "lifting of sanctions" and will affect only a relatively small range of products. As a result, until U.S. sanctions are modified, U.S. exporters should be aware that significant restrictions still remain on doing business with Syria, including the need to obtain export licenses from BIS prior to exporting eligible products and ensuring that unlicensed products will not be reexported or diverted to Syria.