EU eyes broadening sanctions on Syria
(BRUSSELS) - EU nations are considering fresh sanctions against Syria, from a ban on oil-related investment to possible measures against a TV network close to President Bashar al-Assad, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.
A diplomatic source who asked not to be identified said "there is preliminary political agreement" between European Union nations on slapping a ban on oil-sector related investment as part of a seventh round of sanctions against the Assad regime.
Talks were continuing to finesse details and possibly widen out the measures to firms linked to the defence sector as well as to a TV network, a telecom firm and a mint, sources said.
"An agreement is expected this week," one source said.
"The plan is for the sanctions to be enforced in time to coincide with the opening of the UN General Assembly" later this month, said another source.
Syria's finance minister Mohammed Jleilati earlier Wednesday acknowledged that existing EU sanctions over the regime's crackdown could harm the economy.
"Sanctions could impact exports... Trade and industry will be affected because most exports go to Europe," he told AFP.
The EU on Friday adopted a ban on crude oil imports, designed to hit hard at Damascus as the EU buys 95 percent of Syria's oil exports, providing a third of the regime's hard currency earnings.
In its latest round of sanctions, the EU also expanded a list of around 50 people -- including Assad himself -- targeted by an assets freeze and travel ban, adding four Syrian businessmen accused of bankrolling the regime.
Three firms -- Mada Transport, Cham Investment Group and Real Estate Bank -- were added to an existing blacklist of eight Syrian and Iranian firms.
It has also had an arms embargo in place since May 9.
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero on Tuesday said the new sanctions "will target economic entities which in one way or another are linked to the daily repression that has lasted for months against protesters in Syria."
More than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since mass anti-regime protests erupted across the country in March, according to UN figures.
In Damascus, the Syrian minister downplayed the impact of sanctions on the oil industry in the long run. "Seventy percent of Syria's oil is refined in Syria. What is left is exported to friendly countries," he told AFP.
Syria produces 387,000 barrels per day of oil and exports around 110,000 bpd.
The country is expected to easily find new destinations for its oil exports, notably from energy-hungry China or India.
"Oil exceeding Syria's needs we used to sell it to Europe. If Europe stops wanting it, then we will look for another buyer, depending on who gives the best offer," the minister told reporters.
"Syria is looking for any importer. It could be any country: Russia, China or Malaysia," he said.
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