Last Updated: Sun Sep 04, 2011 10:01 am (KSA) 07:01 am (GMT)

EU prepared to slap fresh sanctions on Syria to halt violence

The European Union imposed a ban on purchases of Syrian oil on Saturday and targeted three Syrian firms in an expanded sanctions. (Photo by Reuters)
The European Union imposed a ban on purchases of Syrian oil on Saturday and targeted three Syrian firms in an expanded sanctions. (Photo by Reuters)

Less than 24 hours after slapping an oil embargo on Syria, European Union foreign ministers Saturday warned of possible further sanctions and called for a UN resolution failing a halt to violence.

Asked if the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers had agreed fresh action, after two days of talks in this Polish seaside resort, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: “We’ll continue to put the pressure on and to look for ways of doing so.”

She declined to detail any new measures being considered against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but said “what we are consistently trying to do is to look for ways to exercise our economic muscle to try to put the political pressure on Syria.”

“All I will say is that discussions are continuing,” she stressed.

Speaking out on the continuing bloodshed in Syria as an EU oil embargo took effect, depriving the regime of vital revenue, major EU players pledged there would be no let-up in efforts to quell the violence.

“Should Bashar al-Assad fail to change, should the regime fail to change, there will have to be extra pressure applied on Syria,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe”.

His German counterpart Guido Westerwelle said “one cannot exclude talks in Europe over extra measures should the repression continue.”

The remarks came after the EU on Friday adopted a ban on crude oil imports, expected to hit hard at Damascus as the EU buys 95 percent of Syria’s crude, providing a third of the regime’s hard currency earnings.

The embargo drew fire from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“We are against unilateral sanctions. Sanctions rarely solve anything in general,” Lavrov said.

Commenting on the Russian response, Ashton said the sanctions were Europe’s answer to “how best we can try to end this terrible bloodshed in Syria.”

“I’m very confident that the 27 countries of the EU ... are making a contribution and I call on all members of the international community to consider how best they can make a contribution too,” she added.

In separate statements, ministers urged a UN resolution to end the Syrian regime’s relentless repression against dissenters while calling for ties with the opposition to Assad.

“Syria is not Libya, but ... we must be coherent with ourselves, and the international community, the European Union, and France for the least must fully exercise their responsibility to protect civilian populations against the violence of dictators,” Juppe said.

He said Paris would continue efforts at the United Nations “to obtain a more explicit condemnation of the Syrian regime, and at last work with the opposition.”

As was the case in Libya, in Syria too “we must help the opposition to organize.”

Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez also urged “an international condemnation” while Germany’s Westerwelle called for a UN resolution on Syria “in favor of freedom and democracy.”

In its latest round of sanctions against Syria, 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.

And three firms − Mada Transport, Cham Investment Group and Real Estate Bank − were added to an existing blacklist of eight Syrian and Iranian firms.

While the loss of the oil will be little felt across the European Union, where Syrian crude accounts for a mere 1.5 percent of the bloc’s imports, Syria has already warned it will find buyers elsewhere.

“We can resolve our problems with the help of China,” central bank chief Adib Mayaleh told AFP in an interview last week. “If the Europeans withdraw the Chinese can easily take their place and fill the vacuum. Russia too can help us.”

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