Some encouraging developments on the diplomatic front this week: First, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford visited protestors in Jassem, openly defying travel restrictions placed on him by the Assad regime — essentially daring them to expel him. This is the best thing Ford can do, and I must say I’m pleasantly surprised, so credit where it’s due. More, please.
Second, the European Union approved further sanctions on those involved in the crackdown in Syria, notably on the Iranian al-Quds force. More importantly, the EU appears to be ready to impose an embargo on Syrian oil. The Financial Times reports this afternoon:
During a key meeting on Friday, mid-level representatives from all 27 countries in the EU signed off on a ban on imports of oil and petroleum products from Syria. Although the decision must still be approved at ministerial level – a move expected next week – the consensus reached on Friday is the clearest sign yet that the bloc will move forward with the ban, which could be the most damaging sanctions against the regime to date.
Europe is responsible for about 95 per cent of Syrian oil exports, and European energy groups Royal Dutch Shell and Total are among the biggest companies doing business in Syria.
The drive for a new round of sanctions was spearheaded by the Netherlands. According to a diplomat briefed on the agreement, energy companies conducting business with Syria would be granted a “limited” period to get out of their contracts.
It’s significant that the Netherlands is pushing the embargo given Royal Dutch Shell’s interest. This means that all four countries where companies that do business with Syria are based — the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Italy — have turned against Assad (President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel have called on Assad to step down; Italy has recalled its ambassador from Damascus). It looks like the regime in Damascus is about to lose a major source of revenue.