Saturday, August 13, 2011

Oil Before Blood

Hilary Clinton may call for an intensified economic boycott of Syria but there appears little prospect that Western countries will put teeth in their sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad any time soon by targeting his vital oil industry.

Syria produces about 400,000 barrels of oil a day, exporting most of about 150,000 barrels per day to European countries including the Netherlands, Italy, France and Spain.

The European Union has subjected 35 individuals including Assad to asset freezes and visa bans and targeted military-linked firms linked to the suppression of dissent. But it has not touched the oil sector, where big European corporations Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell and France's Total are significant investors. Such a lack of urgency only betrays vested EU interests. “Sanctions on the energy sector would be an obvious next step,” said Clara O'Donnell of the Centre for European Reform. “But if there were a real interest to do that it would probably have gone further already -- the level of violence the Syrian authorities have been inflicting has been quite prolonged now and it's striking to see how slow the exploration of widening sanctions has been”

“Clearly the desire of European policymakers not to damage the economic interests of some firm may be a playing a role.” Rime Allaf, a Syrian Middle East expert at Chatham House, “Making a noise about sanctions and not actually acting has given the regime a lot more self-confidence that it can literally get away with murder.”

A Swedish official said differing views on extending sanctions to the oil industry and financial institutions meant for now “the likelihood of a strong response appears small”

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