Middle East

Q&A: Syria sanctions

The international community has imposed wide-ranging sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's regime, in an attempt to put pressure on the Syrian government to stop using violence against demonstrators.

The Arab League, European Union, United States and Turkey have all imposed economic sanctions on Syrian individuals and companies. In March, First Lady Asma al-Assad became the latest person connected to the regime to be targeted for sanctions when EU foreign ministers imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on her.

What sanctions are already in place on Syria?

TheEU, Syria's biggest trading partner, has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on more than 120 individuals and 40 companies. These include President Assad and most of his close family, the Syrian Central Bank and senior officials, including seven ministers.

Last year, the EU banned crude oil imports from Syria and in February it expanded sanctions to block trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Syrian public bodies and the central bank.

TheUSdesignated Syria a "state sponsor of terror" in 1979, a label which brought a raft of sanctions with it. Those have been added to since, by the Bush administration in 2004 and last year by Barack Obama in response to the current crisis. In August 2011 President Obama signed a new executive order, imposing sanctions on Syria's energy sector and freezing all Syrian government assets in the US.

Arab Leaguemembers suspended Syria last November and imposed sanctions. 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 states - particularly Syria's neighbours, said the sanctions would be difficult to apply.

Turkeyannounced plans to freeze Syrian government assets and suspend all financial dealings with Turkey on 30 November 2011. Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu also said a co-operation agreement with Syria would be suspended until a new government was in place.

Canada, Australia and Switzerland have also imposed sanctions.

What is likely to have the biggest impact?

The EU's oil import ban is likely to hit Syria's economy hardest. 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 that 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 to 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.

Syria still exerts substantial influence in the politics of neighbouring Lebanon, which also abstained in a UN Security Council vote in October 2011 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.)