Some 60 US Senators, led by Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), have written President Barack Obama, urging him to step up sanctions on Syria, with special focus on the country’s oil and gas industry.
“We ask that you engage with our European allies and European energy companies on ceasing the purchase of Syrian oil and investment in Syria's oil and gas sectors,” the senators wrote.
“We also request that you work swiftly to identify and implement additional sanctions-including on Syria's banking sector-to send a clear message to the Syrian government that its behavior will not be tolerated,” the senators wrote.
The letter joins other calls on Obama to step up sanctions against the Syrian government, which is accused of using repressive acts in an effort to stifle political opposition to the rule of the country’s leader President Bashar al-Assad.
US congressional members also are considering a bipartisan energy sanctions bill that would exert pressure on Al-Assad’s regime in an effort to stop the bloodshed.
Syrian security forces are reported to have used tanks, gunfire, and mass arrests in efforts to crush a revolt against 41 years of authoritarian rule by the Al-Assad family. Human rights groups say more than 1,600 people have been killed.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), as well as Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced bills targeting investment in Syria’s energy sector.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the main foreign producing consortium is the Al-Furat Petroleum Co., a joint venture established in 1985. Its current stakeholders are state-owned Syrian Petroleum Co., 50% interest, Shell Oil 32%, and others, including China's CNPC.
Asian national oil companies and smaller independents have been the most active in recent exploration tenders, including Gulfsands, led by Sinochem, EIA said.
Under the bill proposed by Lieberman, Gillibrand, and Kirk, 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.
“These bills are modeled on Iran sanctions laws that are successfully squeezing Iran’s energy sector,” said Mark Dubowitz is executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“It’s time to persuade Assad’s energy partners that their support for the regime is bad for business -- not to mention their reputations,” said Dubowitz, who noted that Syria receives strong support from Iran.
“Iran has reportedly promised Assad $5.5 billion in loans and 290,000 barrels of oil each day, further underscoring how concerned Tehran is about his survival,” Dubowitz said.
Dubowitz said the presence of companies connected with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria also suggests that the IRGC understands the importance of Syrian energy to Assad’s survival.
“Syrian energy sanctions could thus be useful by both tightening the screws on Assad and costing Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei resources he needs to withstand western pressure on his battered regime,” Dubowitz said.
Such concerns were underlined earlier this week when Iran’s parliament approved the appointment of IRGC Brig. Gen. Rostam Qasemi as minister of oil, marking a major victory for hardliners in asserting control over the country’s most important revenue sector (OGJ Online, Aug. 3, 2011).
The statements by Dubowitz and the US senators came as European Union members agreed on Thursday to further extend sanctions on Syria but stopped short of targeting the oil industry and banks.
EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels agreed that more names should be added to a sanctions list that already targets Al-Assad and 34 other individuals as well as military-linked firms associated with the suppression of dissent.
They also agreed that the possibility of extending sanctions to the oil industry should be considered, but stopped short of a decision, saying that further sanctions would depend on recommendations from the EU delegation in Damascus and EU states.
Meanwhile, Syria's Oil and Gas Minister Sufian Allaw said that oil output in the first half of 2011 increased year on year despite the chronic nationwide unrest.
Syria's oil production in the period was estimated at 70.092 million bbl with an average of 387,250 b/d, a rise of 957 b/d year on year, according to Allaw, who added that the country exported 27.793 million bbl of light and heavy oil in the period.
Allaw said Syria's gas production in the six-month period was 5.158 bcm with an average of 30.29 million cubic meters per day, up 3 million cubic meters per day over the same period of last year.
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