Calls mount for sanctions against Syria's oil and gas industry

US and European legislators have joined with Syrian dissidents in calling for international sanctions to be imposed on Syria’s oil and gas industry in an effort to bring an end to the country’s ruling regime. 

"The legislation we are introducing today will target the Syrian regime's economic dependence on the energy sector—dramatically ratcheting up pressure against the dictatorship in Damascus,” said US Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)

Under the bill proposed by Lieberman and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), President Barack Obama would be called on to block access to the US financial system, markets, and federal contracts for companies that invest in Syria's energy sector, purchase the country's oil, and sell gasoline to Syria.

“Doing business with Syria funds the development of nuclear weapons and support for terrorists who have already harmed Americans and our allies. No company should be allowed to put their profits before our safety," said Gillibrand.

Meanwhile, the European Union should extend sanctions to Syrian oil companies, according to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, which comprises the third-largest grouping in the European Parliament.

ALDE president Guy Verhofstadt said sanctions against Syrian oil companies would be the most effective action the EU can take to deprive the regime of revenue.

“Ninety percent of Syrian oil exports are exported to the EU and market conditions do not favor easy substitution of other arrangements,” Verhofstadt said, underlining the crucial element in the group’s proposal.

ALDE called for sanctions to include Syria’s state-owned Syria Petroleum Corp and Sytrol even after the European Council announced fresh sanctions this week, saying that the current measures “have not gone far enough.”

That view was underlined by Ausama Monajed, an opposition activist in London who is part of a group that is holding meetings in Europe to lobby for sanctions. “We need to force European companies away from buying the oil,” Monajed told the Financial Times.

On Aug. 2, the European Union added Syrian Defense Minister Ali Habib and several other security officials to a list of members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government targeted by asset freezes and travel bans.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague described the additional sanctions imposed on Syria Tuesday as a clear and unambiguous message that "those responsible for the repression will be singled out and held accountable."

"The appalling crackdown that we witnessed in Hama and other Syrian cities," he said, "only erode the regime's legitimacy and increase resentment." Without internal political reform, the UK foreign secretary added, "We will continue to pursue further EU sanctions."

Syrian dissidents urged US President Barack Obama to call on Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad to quit power and to press for UN sanctions over his regime's deadly crackdown on protests.

The demands, which were presented in a first meeting between US Secretary Clinton and members of Syria's disparate opposition, followed word by the State Department that it is considering the possibility of further sanctions against Syria, including in the oil and gas sector.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to reverse its declining output, Syria produced  0.2% more crude and 11% more natural gas in the first half of 2011 compared with the same period of last year, the oil ministry said.

Crude output averaged 387,250 b/d, up from 386,293 b/d in the first half of last year, the ministry said. State-owned companies accounted for 36.7 million bbl, or about half of the total production, with eight joint ventures producing the remainder.

Syria exported 27.8 million bbl of the crude produced during the period and supplied its two state-owned refineries with 43.7 million bbl, according to the ministry statement.

Gas production rose to 5.48 billion cu m in the first half, or 30.3 million cu m/day, up from 27.3 million cu m/d during the same period of 2010.

Last month, Syria’s authorities blamed saboteurs for the bombing of a major oil pipeline that carries crude westward to the 132,725-b/d refinery at Banyias from oil fields in Deir el-Zour province.

"Some citizens heard an explosion near a pipeline for transporting crude oil to Banyias," said Homs governor Ghassan Abdelal, who described the explosion as a “criminal act of sabotage” (OGJ Online, July 29, 2011).

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com

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