'EU agrees to broaden Syria sanctions, ban oil imports'

Diplomats say Syrian industry supporting Assad faces EU sanctions; Assad's troops kill 3, adding to body count of more than 2,200.

European Union ministers in Luxembourg 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir )
European Union ministers in Luxembourg 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir )
BRUSSELS - European Union governments agreed on Friday to broaden their sanctions against Syria to allow for future bans on business with Syrian banks or energy and telecommunications firms, EU diplomats said.
During a round of talks in Brussels on future sanctions against the government of President Bashar Assad, EU diplomats also confirmed plans to impose an embargo on imports of Syrian crude oil to Europe.
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Pending a final confirmation by EU capitals, the import ban could be put in place as soon as next week, diplomats said.
But disagreements persisted over proposals to ban European citizens from investing in Syria's oil industry -- a measure already instituted for Americans by the United States along with an embargo on crude -- and a prohibition against exporting oil-related equipment to Syria.
"There is a political agreement that's unlikely to unravel on the oil embargo and on new criteria for entities and persons affected by EU asset freezes," said one EU diplomat.
"It basically allows us to target anybody," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The bloc has not yet decided which companies and individuals to add to its existing list of Syrian entities subject to EU sanctions such as asset freezes and visa bans, diplomats said.
EU governments wanted to expand the criteria used when imposing sanctions to include companies that support Assad's government or benefit from its actions. Until now, the EU has banned only companies directly involved in repression of anti-government demonstrators.
In its latest round of sanctions, the EU this week imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 15 Syrian individuals, including senior military intelligence and police officials, and on five institutions, including military and air force intelligence agencies.
New European measures could fall short of US sanctions
EU governments have pushed to increase pressure against Assad as violence against anti-government protesters continues in Syria, but new moves could fall short of punitive measures agreed by the United States.
Underlying deep policy differences that mar Europe's ability to move quickly in the foreign policy arena, several of the EU's 27 member governments have been reluctant so far to target Syria's oil industry because of concerns this could damage their commercial interests.
Others have argued that cutting off EU funds would only open way for more investment from elsewhere, for example Russia and China, blunting the impact of sanctions.
Discussions on an investment ban are expected to continue next week, and could extend to an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Poland, set for Friday and Saturday.
Syria produces about 400,000 barrels of oil a day, exporting about 150,000 bpd, most of which goes to Europe, particularly the Netherlands, Italy, France and Spain. Major European firms are heavily invested in Syrian industry.
In New York, a US and European push to impose UN Security Council sanctions on Syria is meeting resistance from Russia and China, UN diplomats said.
The United States, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal circulated a draft resolution calling for sanctions against Assad, influential members of his family and close associates. Western diplomats said Russia and China were refusing to discuss the draft.
Meanwhile Syrian troops killed three protesters after Friday prayers, activists said, adding to a body count of more than 2,200, according to the United Nations.
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