Archive photo of British Foreign Secretary William Hague (Photo:Reuters)
The European Union could further strengthen sanctions on Syria after targeting its oil industry and will press more for U.N. action, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Saturday.
The violence against protesters by President Bashar al-Assad's government was "completely unacceptable" and increased international pressure was needed, Hague told Reuters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Poland.
Hague said a ban on any new purchases of Syrian oil by EU states from Saturday was a "very substantial" step given that it covered around 95 percent of Syrian exports and 25 percent of the revenue to the Syrian government.
However, Hague acknowleged that Syria could export the oil elsewhere and declined to make clear whether Britain would back extending EU sanctions to a ban on investment by EU firms in Syria, as imposed by the United States last month.
Analysts say the EU sanctions may have only a limited impact on Assad's access to funds, but imposing an investment ban would require overcoming reluctance in some capitals, given that European firms like Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell and France's Total are significant investors in Syria.
Hague said he believed the new EU steps would be taken seriously by the Syrian government.
"That does not of course preclude further measures being taken in the future," he said. "We will continue that intensification over the coming months if this situation continues."
"There will be ways of further increasing that pressure in the future, but I am satisfied that this is the right response at the moment. It is a very serious response and we would ask other countries in the world to join us in making it."
Hague said the situation in Syria posed a great risk to stability in the region.
Any call for U.N. action would be aimed at increasing the pressure on Syrian authorities to end the violence but would not involve military intervention such as the West has pursued in Libya, he said.
Analysts say that the impact of international sanctions on Syria has been weakened by opposition by some global powers, including Russia and China, which have resisted a U.N. Security Council resolution laying out more measures.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned European sanctions on Saturday, saying they "will lead to nothing good".
"We have always said that unilateral sanctions will lead to nothing good. This ruins the partnership approach to any crisis," he told reporters on the sidelines of a summit of ex-Soviet states in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.
Hague said that while Syria could always export its oil elsewhere it would be difficult given isses of transportation and logistics and the need to establish different markets.