By Justyna Pawlak
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union governments are likely to adopt an embargo against imports of Syrian oil by the end of next week to ratchet up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, an EU diplomat said on Wednesday.
The bloc's 27 governments agreed last Friday to explore new sanctions against Assad in response to his five-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, in which the United Nations says 2,200 civilians have been killed.
A round of discussions was held in Brussels on Monday, the diplomat said, and EU capitals raised no objections.
"The whole process could be completed by the end of next week if all goes according to plan," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
An oil embargo would constitute a major step for the EU, where several governments have been reluctant so far to target Assad's oil industry because of concerns over potential damage to their commercial interests.
Syria produces about 400,000 barrels of oil a day, exporting most of about 150,000 barrels per day to European countries, particularly the Netherlands, Italy, France and Spain.
In its latest round of sanctions, the EU imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 15 Syrians on Monday, including senior military intelligence and police officials.
Five institutions, including military and air force intelligence agencies, were added to a list of entities that EU companies are banned from doing business with.
The EU diplomat said there was still no agreement among EU capitals on new criteria that would allow the EU to broaden existing sanctions that target specific companies in Syria with asset freezes.
Last week, governments agreed to discuss ways to include sectors such as banking, telecoms and energy in EU measures banning European companies from doing business with targeted firms.
"There is uncertainty about the exact scope (of the new criteria)," the diplomat said.
Discussions have been hampered by concerns over how to structure the EU sanctions without risking a legal challenge by their targets.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Jon Hemming)