On October 23, 2019, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced it was removing three Turkish government ministers and two Turkish government ministries from its list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN List”). The removals come only six days after OFAC’s initial designations, resulting in some of the shortest-lived sanctions in OFAC’s history.
As we discussed in our recent client alert, the imposition of sanctions against Turkish officials represented an unusual deviation from previous U.S. administrations, as it punished a NATO ally. Shortly after imposing the sanctions, the Trump Administration promised Turkey sanctions relief if it agreed to a ceasefire in northern Syria. Less than a week later, the President stated in a White House speech that the Turkish government agreed to a permanent ceasefire in northern Syria – and these recent removals fulfill the United States’ end of this bargain.
Notwithstanding the White House’s claims of a “major breakthrough” with the diplomatic situation in the Middle East, much remains to be seen about whether tensions between the United States and Turkey return to normal levels. There are doubts as to whether the ceasefire in northern Syria will last, and congressional leaders have floated sanctions bills targeting Turkey for its Syrian offensive. If the ceasefire ends or if Congress passes its own sanctions package, OFAC may be forced to reverse course yet again and re-impose sanctions.