The Obama administration declined to claim credit for stopping the journey of the Russian-owned merchant vessel Alaed. But the insurance tactic was originated by the Treasury Department four months ago to prevent at least two shipments of Syrian oil from reaching the open market via Iran, a senior administration official said.
In the earlier episodes, the American insurer of a Liberian-flagged vessel and the European insurer of a Maltese-flagged ship both canceled coverage after being told they were violating U.S. and E.U. sanctions prohibiting any involvement in arms shipments or economic support for Syria, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive issue.
The administration shared the tactic with its European allies, the official said. E.U. sanctions implemented two months ago prohibit insurance on Syrian goods.
About a dozen M-25 helicopters aboard the Alaed were first sold to Syria during the Soviet era and had been returned to Russia some time ago for refurbishment. The Obama administration charged last week that the aircraft, which it said were on their way back to Syria, would be used in President Bashar al-Assad’s attacks against civilians.
The charge came amid an increasingly tense diplomatic standoff between Moscow and Washington. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week that Russia was supplying the Syrian military with the means to intensify its campaign against the rebel opposition. Russia, one of Syria’s strongest allies, has refused to join the U.S.-led campaign to pressure Assad to honor a U.N.-brokered cease-fire and negotiate a transfer of power.
President Obama appeared to make little headway at the G-20 summit in Mexico in persuading President Vladimir Putin to join the international community in insisting that Assad step aside. Moscow has charged that the United States and its allies are fueling the Syrian conflict by assisting Syrian rebels.
During a closed-door briefing at the United Nations on Tuesday, senior U.N. officials provided the Security Council with a grim account of their observer mission in Syria. Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said he will probably have to reconfigure the mission because of the risks to observers, who have been repeatedly targeted by hostile crowds and come under indirect fire, and the lack of commitment by all parties to a political transition, according to a diplomat in the room.
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Al-Jaafari, told reporters outside the Security Council meeting that “we are a state, and we are free to buy weapons from wherever we want . . . there is no violation of international law.”