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Syria: European Union Reportedly Considers Oil Embargo

Syria European Union Oil Embargo

SLOBODAN LEKIC   08/19/11 02:50 PM ET   AP

BRUSSELS — The European Union is planning to slap sweeping new economic sanctions against Syria, including an embargo on oil imports, a senior official said Friday.

A foreign policy committee has proposed adding 15 more Syrian officials and five companies to the existing sanctions list, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

An EU oil embargo would bring the 27-nation bloc in line with the latest U.S. moves to isolate the regime of President Bashar Assad, including a ban on the import of Syrian petroleum or related products.

Human rights groups claim Assad's forces have killed nearly 2,000 people since mid-March. The EU has already imposed travel bans and asset freezes against 35 Syrian government officials and military and police commanders, including Assad himself.

The official said that in the future, the EU would broaden the definition of people covered by its sanctions, who have so far included only individuals involved in the repression. But a new definition would also include those benefiting from the regime's actions, a much broader definition than at present.

In addition to a ban on imports of Syrian oil, a further measure would be the withdrawal of all technical assistance for various projects in Syria by the European Investment Bank.

"All this will be proposed next week by the EU Council and we hope to adopt it very quickly," the official said.

In the past, the EU has been reluctant to restrict Syrian oil and gas exports for fear that shortages might hit the Syrian public and small businesses.

Some EU nations have been lobbying for other sectors to be added to the sanctions regime, including telecommunications and banking.

In coordinated statements on Thursday, President Barack Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Canada and the EU all called for Assad to resign, saying his repression of demonstrations inspired by this spring's Arab uprisings made him unfit to lead.

The calls were the first explicit demands for Assad to step down.

But on Friday, Russia's Foreign Ministry cautioned the West against encouraging the Syrian opposition and said it did not support Western calls for Assad to resign.

Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Russia believes Assad must be given sufficient time to fulfill promises of reform as he has already made "some significant steps" – including lifting the state of emergency and issuing a decree allowing peaceful demonstrations.

"Our deep belief is that radical forces that are stirring up tensions in Syria mustn't be encouraged from the outside," Lukashevich said.

Russia's opposition will make it difficult for the U.S. and its European allies to get U.N. Security Council backing for their sanctions regime. Russian diplomats have said Moscow fears that any resolution condemning Syria could result in an all-out Western military attack on Syria similar to the bombing campaign against Libya, now in its sixth month.

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Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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Filed by Eline Gordts  |