The Biden administration expects to complete its ongoing sanctions policy review this fall, a U.S. Treasury Department spokeswoman said, as some human rights and humanitarian groups express concern about how long the review is taking and the level of engagement with nongovernmental organizations.
This week, a coalition of 46 peacebuilding, humanitarian and human rights groups sent a letter to President Biden, Secretary of State
and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
asking the administration to swiftly conclude the review, make its findings public and implement changes to U.S. sanctions policy, according to a copy of the letter seen by The Wall Street Journal.
The sanctions policy review, which Ms. Yellen committed to during her confirmation hearing, focuses in part on whether U.S. sanctions programs are achieving their stated goals and on potential unintended consequences, such as blocking of food, medicine or other humanitarian supplies.
A senior White House official said in March the review could take months and the administration wouldn’t “be able to complete our review until we really had a chance to have all of our senior officials in place in order to get a steer from them,” the Journal previously reported.
Brian Nelson, President Biden’s nominee for the Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, the top sanctions and counterterrorist finance role at Treasury, is still waiting to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Mr. Nelson said during a confirmation hearing in June that he would focus on the continuing review of sanctions programs if confirmed.
The time that has passed since the Biden administration committed to the review, along with the humanitarian situation unfolding in Afghanistan after the departure of U.S. troops, prompted the groups to send the letter, according to Paul Carroll, director of the Charity & Security Network, a resource and advocacy center for nonprofit organizations that signed the letter.
Government outreach with the humanitarian community has been less cohesive than his group initially hoped for, Mr. Carroll added.
The administration also told his group in the summer that the review would be concluded before the end of the fiscal year, on or about on Oct. 1. One official told The Wall Street Journal in July that the administration expected to publish the results of its sanctions policy review by the end of the summer.
“This is the kind of situation where the current sanctions landscape caused obstacles in humanitarian and other NGO types of activities,” Mr. Carroll said.
The letter adds that the Biden administration has taken few significant steps to address the impact of sanctions on humanitarian aid beyond three pandemic-related licenses issued by the Treasury in June that clarified sanctions related to Syria, Iran and Venezuela. It also cited the Biden administration walking away from a campaign promise to pursue normalized relations with Cuba.
The letter asks the administration to restore the humanitarian exemption allowed by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by amending executive orders that canceled it, and to issue a global temporary general license to exempt items needed for the treatment of Covid-19 from sanctions.
The Treasury spokeswoman said the sanctions review will identify steps for improving the government’s use of sanctions to ensure they remain an effective tactic of foreign policy and are updated to address U.S. priorities. But the review isn’t focused on individual sanctions programs or designations, or on an intelligence review related to the application of sanctions, she added.
The Treasury also has consulted representatives from more than 75 domestic and international nonprofit groups as part of the review, including two meetings Deputy Secretary of the Treasury
held with them in April and May, the spokeswoman said.
“The administration is conducting a thorough review of U.S. sanctions policies to ensure U.S. sanctions remain a strong, viable foreign policy tool for years to come,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email. A spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council didn’t immediately provide a comment.
Mr. Carroll said aid groups remain hopeful that changes could be made by the administration, particularly with regards to Afghanistan. “That’s the reason why our community is concerned and frustrated—time is of the essence,” he said. “There are intelligent people in the administration that understand the urgency and how the modifications can be made to make a difference to the lives of these people.”
Write to Mengqi Sun at [email protected]
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