Syria: USA calls for Assad to resign, impose trade sanctions on Syrian oil. EU to follow?

After six months of onslaught by the Syrian regime, after at least 1800 deaths according to United Nations and thousands more injured, arrested, torture USA and EU yesterday called for Bashar al-Assad to step down. Finally – but why the delay?

In the beginning there were hopes that Bashar al-Assad was a closet reformer that would take the opportunity that the protests presented to push for real change towards a democratic Syria. Assad has managed to project an image of a young, modern, western-educated reformer hampered old guard baathists. The Syrian regime has also skillfully played their ‘cards’ – the fear of sectarian conflicts. Of the fear Syria will turn into an Iraq. Of the fear that a if Assad is swept out of power, with an opposition viewed by many as weak and divided, Syria would decent into chaos, effecting neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Iraq.

The USA and the EU has for long been alone in their condemnations. There has been little traction in the UNSC with Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil skeptic to any UN resolution after Libya. But the escalation of violence by the regime days before the holy month of Ramadan, with the attacks by military forces on Hama, Deir ez-Zor, Homs and Latakia, has changed the political landscape. UNSC issued a strong Presidential Statement. The Arab League, GCC, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain as all spoken out against the Syrian regime.

In a statement published on the White House homepage U.S President Barak Obama said, among other that “the future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people.  We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way.  He has not led.  For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.

The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria. It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders, and we have heard their strong desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement. What the United States will support is an effort to bring about a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive for all Syrians. We will support this outcome by pressuring President Assad to get out of the way of this transition, and standing up for the universal rights of the Syrian people along with others in the international community”.

The USA also imposed new sweeping sanctions against Syria – freezing all Syrian assets in the USA and prohibiting, among other, trade with petroleum products – Syria’s main export. It is unlikely that Syria has any assets left in the USA to speak of that will be effected. And as to petroleum products, the main export area, 96%, is the EU. Around 148 000 barrels of crude oil is exported to Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands. This oil export is the main source of revenue to pay loyalists to kill protesters.

In a joint statement PM Cameron, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel also called for Assad to resign: ” …France, Germany and the United Kingdom reiterate their utter condemnation of this bloody repression of peaceful and courageous demonstrators and the massive violations of human rights which President Assad and his authorities have been committing for months. We are actively supporting further strong EU sanctions against the regime of President Assad. We urge the Syrian regime to stop all violence immediately, to release all prisoners of conscience and to allow free access to the United Nations for an independent assessment of the situation. Our three countries believe that President Assad, who is resorting to brutal military force against his own people and who is responsible for the situation, has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead the country. We call on him to face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people…”.

This was followed by a similar call also from the EU High Representative Ashton. In the statement it was also noted that “…the addition of further names to the list of those targeted by the EU restrictive measures is under preparation. Moreover, the EU is moving ahead with discussing further restrictive measures that will broaden its sanctions against the Syrian regime…”.

This round of USA sanctions targeting Syrian oil and gas exports is to be seen as a signal to the EU, to impose sanctions on import and trade with Syrian oil. The question is, will the EU also follow the USA and add sanctions? If we look at the statements made by Cameron, Sarkozy and Merkel and that of Ashton it does look far-fetched that we will see such sanctions imposed in the coming days. If that is the case, might EU also add banks with connections to the regime as a way to stop money transfers and sanctions targeting any company transporting oil from Syrian ports?

About Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson has worked in the field of asylum at the Swedish Migration Agency specializing in the Middle East, Schengen and the Dublin Regulation, as Migration Attaché and head of the migration section at the Swedish Embassy in Damascus 2005 - 2008, as a resettlement consultant at the UNHCR branch office in Damascus 2008 - 2009, Consul at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem 2012 - 2013 and associate RSD/RST officer at UNHCR in Beirut 2013 - 2014. He currently lives in Tbilisi, Georgia.
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