Sunday, November 27, 2011

Q&A: Syria sanctions

27 November 2011

Syria's neighbours and other Arab states are trying to increase pressure on President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, in attempt to force the Syrian government to stop using violence against anti-government demonstrators.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz was quoted on Tuesday as saying that if Syria didn't change course, Turkey would consider cutting off electricity supplies to its southern neighbour.
What sanctions are already in place on Syria?
The Arab League suspended Syria's membership on 12 November and voted to approve economic sanctions. The detail of the sanctions was approved at a meeting of foreign ministers on 27 November. They include the freezing of Syrian government assets in Arab countries, stopping dealings with the Syrian central bank, the suspension of commercial flights to and from Syria, halting investment by Arab governments for projects in Syria, and a travel ban on senior officials. However, some Arab countries have questioned the feasibility of imposing these sanctions.
The EU put 13 Syrian officials on a sanctions list on 10 May, including the President's brother Maher Al-Assad, who commands the elite Republican Guard. On 23 May President Assad himself was added to the list, and the EU has since added more names and institutions accused of helping the regime.
Those on the list have had their assets in the EU frozen and are banned from travelling to the EU. The EU has also placed an arms embargo on Syria and in September it banned imports of Syrian oil. However, Italy won a concession allowing it to fulfil existing contracts until 15 November.
The United States has imposed similar measures against Syrian security services and prominent regime figures, also including President Assad himself. The US already had economic sanctions against Syria in place before the current unrest began.
In 1979 the US declared Syria a "state sponsor of terrorism" and began imposing sanctions, which have been periodically added to ever since. In 2004 the Bush administration ordered a freeze on certain Syrian assets in the US and a halt to all American exports apart from humanitarian items, as punishment for Damascus' support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and militant Palestinian groups.
Can Turkey shut off Syria's electricity?
Turkey feeds power into the Syrian national grid, and can provide up to 10% of Syria's annual consumption. But Syria is a net exporter of oil and gas and would have the capacity to make up for any shortfall should Turkey cut off its supply.
The Turkish government has made it clear than any sanctions it imposes should not harm ordinary people. Turkey also announced it was halting plans for a joint oil exploration project with the Syrian state oil company.
Who else can pressure Syria through economic sanctions?
A bigger impact on Syria's economy may come from the EU's oil import ban. Oil revenues account for around 20% of Syrian GDP. Before the EU ban, 90% of oil exports went to the EU, mainly to Germany, Italy and France.
According to some experts, when the ban came into force, Syria was confident that other buyers could be found, in China and India for example. However, initial indications are that other buyers have been harder to find than first thought and that production may have fallen as a result.
Enforcing a wider trade embargo may be more difficult, given Syria's long borders have been historically porous and prone to smuggling, particularly those with Lebanon and Iraq.
Who are Syria's largest trading partners?
According the the European Commission, In 2010 the EU was Syria's biggest trading partner, accounting for 22.5% of Syrian trade, followed by Iraq (13.3%), Saudi Arabia (9%) and China (6.9%.) Turkey was in fifth place with 6.6% and Russia was ninth with 3%.
Who opposes sanctions on Syria?
Three members of the Arab League voted against Syria's suspension - Syria itself, Lebanon and Yemen, with Iraq abstaining. The Yemeni government is also facing protests calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down.
Syria still exerts substantial influence in the politics of neighbouring Lebanon, which also abstained in a UN Security Council vote last month on a resolution backing the use of "targeted measures" against Syria if the clampdown continued.
That resolution was vetoed by Russia and China, who have expressed their opposition to UN involvement in Syria's internal affairs. Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin expressed concerns that a resolution could lead to a Libyan-style foreign military intervention in Syria.
According to the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, current contracts for sales of arms and military equipment from Russia to Syria are worth at least $2.5bn (£1.58bn.)
Graphic of Syria's trade

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