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EU Urges Syria’s Assad To Quit, Mulls Energy Sanctions

Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA) has interests in three production licences in Syria covering some 40 oil fields, with its share of production in 2010 approximately 20,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day. It also has exploration interests in the south of the country.

By Laurence Norman

Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

BRUSSELS (Dow Jones)–The European Union for the first time Thursday called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down as EU leaders threatened strong new sanctions, which could include an embargo on imports of Syrian crude oil and a ban on refined product sales to the country, a person familiar with the situation said.

In a statement promising further sanctions, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton condemned the continued crackdown on protesters.

“The President’s promises of reform have lost all credibility as reforms cannot succeed under permanent repression. The EU notes the complete loss of Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people and the necessity for him to step aside,” Ashton’s statement read.

A separate joint statement from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said the Syrian government had “ignored the voices of the Syrian people and continuously misled them and the international community with empty promises,” and the leaders back further EU sanctions. The comments followed a call by U.S. President Barack Obama for Assad to quit and the announcement of strict new sanctions.

EU ambassadors will meet Friday to discuss a range of options for further sanctions, diplomats told Dow Jones Newswires.

On Thursday, the EU’s foreign service circulated an options paper–that will form the basis of Friday’s discussions–which says possible targets for sanctions include the energy, financial and telecommunications sectors, according to an official who has seen the document.

The EU is Syria’s largest trade partner and second-largest export market, with EUR7.2 billion in bilateral trade last year. Energy exports mark the bulk of Syria’s exports to the 27-nation bloc. The EU also accounts for around 95% of Syria’s oil exports.

The paper suggests measures to target the country’s energy sector, comprising bans on Syrian crude oil exports, EU sales of refined products to Syria, the sale of specialized equipment Syria needs for exploration and production, and ‘investment bans’ that could deny it other energy expertise.

However, the paper says EU member countries should avoid measures that have “clear repercussions” for the Syrian population, the official said. A U.K. Foreign Office official said Thursday the EU had so far “aimed to ensure that sanctions are carefully targeted…and do not impact on ordinary Syrians.”

“At present we are looking at tightening these. But we do not rule out further options if the situation continues to deteriorate.”

Nonetheless, the official who had seen the options paper said a much broader EU sanctions regime is needed to send “the message of a strong and decisive EU” response to Assad’s violent crackdown.

“The EU should broaden its sanctions beyond the current regime…Certain sectoral sanctions should be considered,” the paper says, according to the official, who added that at least a dozen individuals and entities will be added to the list of 35 people and four government bodies that have already been targeted by an EU arms and travel embargo and asset freezes.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA) has interests in three production licences in Syria covering some 40 oil fields, with its share of production in 2010 approximately 20,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day. It also has exploration interests in the south of the country.

The company declined to detail what impact the U.S. sanctions could have on its activities in the country but said in a statement it observes all relevant legislation pertaining to the countries in which it operates. “Shell complies with all relevant sanctions and laws,” it said.

-By Laurence Norman, Dow Jones Newswires; 32-2741-1481; [email protected]

(Alexis Flynn in London contributed to this article)

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