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Syria govt criticises U.S. decision to allow investment in country's north

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By Reuters

DAMASCUS – Syria’s foreign ministry on Friday criticised a U.S. decision to allow some foreign investment in areas of northern Syria that are outside of government control, vowing to “defeat” the move.

On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department approved activities in 12 sectors including agriculture, construction and finance, in what it said was a strategy designed to defeat Islamic State through economic stabilisation.

The decision does not permit any transactions with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or others blacklisted by the U.S. during the 11-year-long Syrian war.

In a statement on Friday, the foreign ministry in Damascus said Syria was “determined to defeat this new conspiracy,” encouraging people in the country’s north to “bring it down.”

It described the decision as part of Washington’s “destructive approach” to Syria. Damascus blames Western sanctions for widespread civilian hardship in the country, where a collapse of the currency has led to soaring prices and people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.

Government troops and allied forces have recaptured most of the territory they had lost after demonstrations against Assad in 2011 devolved into a brutal conflict.

Swathes of territory in the northwest are held by Turkish-backed rebel forces, while the northeast is mostly controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

The northeast holds much of Syria’s oil reserves and wheat production, while the northwest was once an agricultural and industrial zone.

The license authorises purchases of oil products such as gasoline in the area, but does not permit transactions with the government or sanctioned individuals or the import of Syrian petroleum products to the United States.

In a call with reporters, U.S. officials rejected assertions that the move could be seen as helpful to efforts by some Arab allies to bring back Assad in from the cold, and repeated that Washington had no intention of lifting sanctions on him.

Instead, officials have insisted that economic revitalisation would stymie efforts by the remnants of the Islamic State to recruit new members.