EU weighs ban on Syria firms alongside oil embargo

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 30, 2011 12:31 PM
EU weighs ban on Syria firms alongside oil embargo

By Justyna Pawlak

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union governments may impose sanctions on Syrian banks as well as energy and telecommunications companies within a week, along with a planned embargo on oil imports from the country, EU diplomats said on Monday.

The EU's 27 governments will hold a new round of talks on Tuesday on expanding sanctions against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, aimed at pressuring him to halt a crackdown on anti-government protesters and relinquish power.

They will weigh proposals for a ban on EU citizens doing business with firms that support him. Such prohibitions could be introduced together with the oil embargo which has already won preliminary backing of all EU governments in recent days and awaits final approval this week, diplomats said.

"Some EU member states are doubtful when it comes to specific companies but it is possible to see entities from the banking, telecommunications and energy sectors already in this round of sanctions," one EU diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Disagreements have persisted in the EU over proposals to ban citizens from investing in the Syrian oil industry in general and to prohibit exports of oil-related equipment to Syria.

These could delay the plans to add major Syrian companies to the lists of banned entities. But diplomats said there was a push to have at least the oil embargo agreed before an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Poland Friday and Saturday.

"There is a strong sense of urgency that the decision should be ready before that," one diplomat said.

The new measures, particularly the oil embargo, are a significant step for the EU, which until now has taken an incremental approach to imposing sanctions on Syria because of concerns in some EU capitals about the risks to their commercial interests.

The United States has already introduced an oil embargo and a ban on investment in Syria, where the United Nations says 2,200 people have died during violence.

Diplomats say EU capitals are now showing more urgency in preparing new measures. The EU has no broad economic sanctions yet, only travel bans against officials in Assad's inner circle and asset freezes imposed against several government entities and military-linked firms tied to the crackdown.

An EU ban on Syrian crude would have a significant impact on Assad's access to foreign currency, because European countries import most of the crude that Syria sells abroad.