REPORTING FROM LONDON –- The European Union stiffened sanctions against the Syrian oil industry Friday to bring more pressure to bear on the regime of President Bashar Assad, which has met months of protests with violence.
But the new measures are unlikely to satisfy critics who say sanctions against the Syrian energy sector are riddled with loopholes that leave their effectiveness in doubt.
The EU said it was prohibiting further European investment in Syrian enterprises “engaged in exploration, production and refining crude oil, both in their country and abroad.” European energy companies can no longer enter into partnerships with Syrian counterparts or acquire stakes in them.
The ban follows an embargo announced earlier this month on imports of Syrian crude to Europe, which buys 90% of the oil produced by the troubled Middle Eastern nation.
“I have said repeatedly that the regime’s repression against the Syrian people must stop completely, that detained protesters must be released immediately and that a genuine and inclusive national dialogue must be launched in Syria without delay,” said Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign minister.
But the government in Damascus has resisted such steps, making additional sanctions necessary, Ashton said.
Although Syria is not one of the world’s top oil suppliers, the industry is an important source of revenue for Assad’s regime.
However, critics point out that the oil embargo is not due to begin until November, giving Damascus ample time to find replacement buyers, such as Russia and China. And it is unclear whether the new ban on investment will affect already-existing contracts, another potential loophole that would lessen the sanctions’ effect.
The EU also said it would block Syrian money printed in Europe from being delivered to the Syrian Central Bank.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Members of Syrian opposition living in Turkey wave their national and Turkish flags as they stage a protest against the Syrian regime outside the United Nations headquarters in Ankara on Monday.. Credit: Adem Altan / AFP