World

Syria's Assad blasts U.S. sanctions during speech

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday that sweeping new U.S. sanctions amounted to a new stage of economic warfare against his government and were part of Washington's long-standing efforts to "choke" Syrians' living standards.

Syrian dictator appeared to fall ill during one part of speech

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad addresses the new members of parliament in Damascus on Tuesday. Assad said the country would be able to overcome the U.S. sanctions. (SANA/Reuters)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday that sweeping new U.S. sanctions amounted to a new stage of economic warfare against his government and were part of Washington's long-standing efforts to "choke" Syrians' living standards.

In a speech to deputies at the presidential palace, Assad also blamed the sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, for a fall in the local currency to new record lows, with panic-buying of dollars by Syrians worried about their economic situation.

Assad urged his subjects to support the currency, which has lost almost two-thirds of its value since the start of Syria's nearly decade-old conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made millions refugees.

"Our support of the pound is a source of our strength," Assad said, criticizing the scramble by ordinary Syrians to buy foreign currencies.

The pound touched a record low of 3,000 to the U.S. dollar in June, as many feared the new sanctions would tighten the noose around Assad and worsen Syria's dire economic plight.

A chart seen June 17 at a currency exchange bureau in Damascus shows the rates of the Syrian pound against the U.S. dollar, euro and British pound. (Louiai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

It traded at 47 to the dollar before protests against Assad's rule erupted in March 2011.

The collapse of the currency has driven up inflation and aggravated hardship as Syrians struggle to afford food, power and other basics.

'Huge damage': Assad on sanctions

Assad said Western adversaries were waging a long-term economic war that Syria could surmount by raising its food self-sufficiency and by cracking down on corruption, which he said was wasting public funds needed to raise plunging living standards.

"The Caesar Act is not a separate case. It is another phase in stages of sanctions that preceded it for years and which have caused huge damage," he told the deputies.

Washington says the goal of the new sanctions is to hold Damascus to account for war crimes and deter it from further pursuing the war. The sanctions exempt humanitarian aid.

Earlier, state media had flashed that Assad had suffered low blood pressure for a few minutes while delivering a speech to parliament before resuming normally and that it would broadcast it later in the evening.

A man rides a bicycle on Aug. 7 along an empty street in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province, during a lockdown imposed by the local authorities due to surging coronavirus infections. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

Assad was shown in a pre-recorded speech asking for a chair to rest after he stopped the speech and in the edited footage appeared again on television in front of the deputies.

"Doctors are the worst patients. In truth, I have not had anything to eat since yesterday, only some sugar and salt," the 55-year-old former ophthalmologist said, without elaborating.

With respect to the coronavirus, Syria has seen a rising number of infections recently, although the overall reported numbers remain low with 1,327 confirmed cases and 53 deaths. Limited testing facilities and Syrian government control over pandemic statistics have led to concerns that the real number of cases is much higher than what's being reported.

With files from The Associated Press

now