Sens. Kirk, Lieberman, and Gillibrand are sponsoring new sanctions legislation that would target foreign companies that do business with Syria’s oil and gas sector (via Rubin). Sen. Kirk states on his Senate website:
Sanctions on individuals or entities include prohibition on certain export licenses, blocking access to U.S. financial institutions and markets and federal contracts to violators, and imposing a three-year ban on government contracts against companies who falsely claim they do not conduct business with Syria. Currently, the U.S. bans most export and import trade with Syria, but sanctions do not extend to foreign companies.
Unlike sanctions on Iran, these sanctions appear to be welcomed by the Syrian opposition. Like other sanctions regimes, it has the potential to create hardships for the population without dealing the crippling blow that its advocates expect. The Financial Times reports:
But European officials maintain that hitting the oil sector would provoke criticism that sanctions are hurting the livelihood of the Syrian people. “We’re keen that sanctions are targeted to companies financing the Assad regime, the justification for adding names [or entities] has to be watertight,” said a European official. “The US has greater appetite for oil sanctions but they [the sanctions] also won’t affect American companies,” the official added.
Activists insist that oil profits are bankrolling the crackdown, and that cutting off the supply would not hurt the Syrian people. “We don’t get a penny from the oil,” said one protester in the Damascus suburbs.
But while Syria is not economically dependent on oil in the way that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was, analysts warn that an oil boycott could provoke wider damage if it did not succeed in accelerating the regime’s demise, and such measures were difficult to reverse once in place.