Turkey to end joint oil exploration in Syria

Turkey, alarmed by attacks on its diplomatic missions in Damascus and other cities in neighboring Syria, has cancelled plans for oil exploration in the Middle Eastern country.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Turkey had shelved plans for its state-owned TPAO to jointly explore for oil with Syria's state oil company in six wells.

Turkey also might have to reconsider its exports of electric power to Syria, Yildiz said, noting the course taken by Damascus in dealing with criticism from abroad over its handling of civil unrest.

Yildiz’s words followed attacks on the Turkish embassy in Damascus and consulates in Aleppo and Latakia carried out by supporters of Syria’s embattled President Bashar Al-Assad.

Al-Assad's supporters tried to break into the Turkish missions to denounce a decision by the Arab League to suspend Syria's membership over its violent crackdown on the 8-month-long uprising.

Although Turkey is not a member of the Arab League, its diplomatic facilities were attacked after Ankara welcomed the group's decision against Syria.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who earlier criticized Al-Assad for his handling of civil unrest, repeated that criticism after the attacks on Turkey’s diplomatic facilities.

Erdogan said his country no longer has confidence in the Syrian regime, and he warned Al-Assad that his brutal crackdown on opponents threatens to place him on a list of leaders who “feed on blood.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu added to the criticism of the Al-Assad regime, saying that Turkey was “determined to implement the most effective sanctions that will not harm the people of Syria.”

US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Washington welcomed Turkey's position and its decision to impose energy sanctions on Syria, saying that Al-Assad has been isolated.

“We very much welcome the strong stance that Turkey has taken and believe it sends a critical message to President Assad that he cannot crack down and oppress the aspirations of his people,” Rhodes said.

Meanwhile, Total SA said that Syria’s government has stopped paying for oil the French firm produces in the Middle Eastern country, which is the target of a ban by the European Union on oil exports.

“We are no longer being paid,” said a Total spokesman, adding that the French firm was continuing to produce oil and gas in the country, though at a reduced rate since September when the EU decided to ban crude oil imports from Syria.

Syria’s Oil Minister Sufian Allaw earlier this month acknowledged that sanctions recently imposed by the US and European Union have reduced his country’s production of oil to 270,000 b/d or less from its normal rate of 380,000 b/d (OGJ Online, Nov. 4, 2011).

The 27-nation EU bloc buys 95% of Syria’s oil exports, which yields a third of the hard currency earnings of the Al-Assad regime. Analysts said the ban on oil purchases would cost Al-Assad €9 million/day in lost trade.

The ban on oil purchases came into effect this week, coinciding with an additional set of sanctions imposed by the EU on 18 Syrians accused of organizing violence against demonstrators.

Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal said that the Al-Assad regime has entered its endgame: “We are hearing already that the Syrians are running out of cash, so the sanctions are going to work.”

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal agreed, saying that it is “inevitable” that the Al-Assad regime is bound to fall after failing to keep its commitment to stop the violence against its opponents.

“Inevitably, I think, the lack of response of Mr. Assad to all the efforts made to end the fighting in Syria means that he's taken the view of not accepting these matters,” Al-Faisal said.

“In that context, there will be growing popular opposition to him, and killing every day. I think it's inevitable that he will have to step down in one form or another,” Al-Faisal said.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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