Bloomberg News

Arab League Snubs Syria as U.S. Plans Talks With Opposition

December 06, 2011

(Updates with today’s death toll in eighth paragraph.)

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Arab League said it will maintain sanctions imposed on Syria, after President Bashar al-Assad’s government demanded the removal of the punitive measures among other conditions for admitting monitors.

Separately, the U.S. plans a show of support for Syrians pressing to end Assad’s rule. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to meet today with seven Syrian opposition figures in Geneva, according to a U.S. official who was authorized to speak on condition of anonymity. It will be only the second time that Clinton has held such talks.

Syria is attempting to bargain with the Arab League, which imposed sanctions in response to Assad’s violent crackdown against protesters. The government would agree to let in Arab League monitors provided the bloc restored Syrian membership and ended the sanctions in an agreement to be signed in Damascus, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said in a letter to the group, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency.

That response “will not lead to suspending Arab sanctions on Syria,” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi said, according to Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency.

The league on Dec. 3 ordered a freeze on the assets of 19 Syrian officials, a ban on their travel and a reduction in flights to Syria if the government refuses to admit international monitors, release political prisoners and end its crackdown on protests. Half of air travel between Syria and Arab League states will be cut starting Dec. 15, the league said.

Sanction Enforcement

“The ultimate impact will depend on the effectiveness of enforcing these regulations,” Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at Jeddah-based National Commercial Bank, said in response to e- mailed questions. “This may be difficult in practice. It usually is.”

Assad faces growing economic and political pressure to end a crackdown against unrest that began in mid-March, inspired by movements that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The violence risks moving Syria closer to a civil war as military personnel defect and take up arms against the government, the United Nations’ top human-rights official said last week.

Syrian security forces killed six people today, including a family of five, Al Arabiya television reported, citing activists, and Al Jazeera reported 50 killed yesterday. The UN says more than 4,000 people have been killed since the start of the protests, while human-rights activists put the figure in excess of 4,500.

‘Gross Violations’

The UN Human Rights Council’s independent commission of inquiry last week said its probe found that Syrian military and security forces had committed “gross violations of human rights,” adding that it’s “gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed” throughout the country.

The punitive measures against Syria are the first the Arab League has imposed on a member state since its formation in 1945. The U.S. and the European Union have added to the political and economic pressure by imposing their own sanctions, while the United Nations Security Council wasn’t able to pass any punitive measures after Russia and China objected to passing a resolution to condemn the violence in October.

Total SA said yesterday it will stop all activities undertaken with Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp. to comply with European Union sanctions against Assad’s regime. Three days earlier, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s largest oil company, said it will cease operations in Syria.

The Syrian central bank weakened the currency to 54 per dollar from 50.765 on Dec. 4, SANA reported. That extends the currency’s decline this year to more than 23 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The pound has been loosely pegged to the IMF’s special drawing rights since October 2007.

The Central Bank of Syria has spent about $3 billion defending the currency and financing trade since the start of the uprising, Governor Adib Mayaleh said last month.

--With assistance from Glen Carey in Riyadh, Zaid Sabah Abd Alhamid in Washington, Caroline Alexander in London, Inal Ersan in Dubai and Nicole Gaouette in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editors: Terry Atlas, Ben Holland.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferziger@bloomberg.net; Mariam Fam in Cairo at mfam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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