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Syria Today – Iran, Venezuela to Build Oil Refinery in Homs; Senate to Counter Normalization with Assad

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria
Syria Today – Iran, Venezuela to Build Oil Refinery in Homs; Senate to Counter Normalization with Assad

Iran intends to construct a fresh oil refinery in Syria, boasting a daily capacity of 140,000 barrels. This project is rooted in a three-way memorandum of understanding involving the Iranian government, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and Venezuela. Concurrently, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and James Risch have introduced a sanctions bill known as the “Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act of 2023.” This proposed legislation aims to deter the normalization of diplomatic ties with the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad, specifically targeting allies of the United States in the Middle East.

Iran to build new oil refinery in Syria’s Homs in tripartite deal with regime, Venezuela

Iran is planning to build a new oil refinery in Syria with a capacity of 140,000 barrels a day, based on a tripartite memorandum of understanding with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and Venezuela, an Iranian official has said.

The three countries are under heavy US embargoes, affecting their ability to export oil to the world. Iran and Venezuela have gravely suffered economically in part due to these sanctions.

“The studies that were conducted found that Syria and its neighbouring countries are in need of petroleum products, therefore a refinery with a capacity of 140,000 barrels was identified next to the two existing Syrian refineries of Homs and Bania,” the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company (NIORDC) Jalil Salari told Fars news agency.

“It was included on the agenda to enter the financing and construction phase,” he added.

He pointed out that the Homs refinery, with a capacity of 110,000 barrels, was repaired by Iranian engineers during the Iranian president’s last visit to Syria in May, after which a team from the National Iranian Oil Company was sent to conduct the necessary talks and studies for the work.

Salari said that Iran will be able to export 100,000 barrels per day of its oil to Syria after carrying out these works. He added that these types of projects contribute to increasing the export movement of technical and engineering services and generating income for Iranian technological companies.

“We have appointed a director to supervise the basic repair works of the Homs refinery, and after completing the studies, we will soon enter the contract signing and operation phase.”

The Homs refinery was built to process crude from Syria’s Al-Thayyim, Al-Ashara and Al-Ward fields. Al-Thayyim and Al-Ward oilfields were captured by the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014 before being recaptured by Syrian regime and Iranian forces.

Jordan downs two drones carrying drugs from Syria -army

The Jordanian army on Tuesday said it downed two drones carrying drugs from Syria in the latest incident raising concerns over increased smuggling across the border, according to Reuters.

The army statement said the drones had crossed into its territory and their hauls of crystal methamphetamine were seized. It warned it would act forcefully to prevent any attempt to destabilize the country’s security.

Jordanian officials say the increasing use of drones carrying drugs, weapons and explosives is adding a new dimension to a cross-border billion-dollar drug war the U.S. ally has blamed on Iranian-backed militias that hold sway in southern Syria.

Syria is accused by Arab governments and the West of producing the highly addictive and lucrative amphetamine captagon and other drugs, and organizing its smuggling into the Gulf, with Jordan a main transit route.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies allegations of Syria’s involvement in drug-making and smuggling, as well as any complicity by Iranian-backed militias protected by units within the Syrian army and security forces.

Iran says the allegations are part of a Western plot against the country.

Jordanian officials say talks with senior Syrian officials to curb Iranian-run smuggling networks have reached a dead end due to the inability of Damascus to impose order over its southern region where a state of lawlessness prevails.

Jordan’s King Abdullah said last week that Iran and elements within the Syrian government were benefiting from the drug trade, adding he was not sure if Assad was fully in charge of the country in view of the “major problem” of drugs and weapons being smuggled.

New sanctions bill targets US allies normalizing Assad government

MEE has published an article that discusses a new sanctions bill introduced by Republican Senators Marco Rubio and James Risch called the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act of 2023. This legislation is designed to counteract the normalization of relations with the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad, particularly by US allies in the Middle East.

Syria has been embroiled in a civil war for over a decade, leading to the displacement of millions and a humanitarian crisis. The Assad government, backed by Russia and Iran, has faced international criticism for its actions during the conflict.

The article highlights that several US allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and Lebanon, have been moving towards normalizing relations with the Assad regime. This shift has been prompted by various factors, such as addressing refugee crises and drug trafficking.

The proposed bill seeks to extend existing sanctions on Syria, known as the Caesar sanctions, until 2032. These sanctions were initially imposed in 2020 under the Caesar Act and target individuals and entities associated with the Syrian government.

The bill aims to prevent the US government from normalizing relations with the Assad regime. It calls for diplomatic and economic isolation, highlighting concerns about whitewashing the regime’s crimes.

To deter recognition of Assad by other governments, the bill requires the US State Department to report all high-level meetings between Syria and its neighbours, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and Turkey. This provision seeks to increase transparency and accountability regarding diplomatic engagements.

The legislation proposes expanding sanctions to include members of Syria’s parliament, senior officials of the Baath Party, and those accused of diverting humanitarian aid. This broadening of sanctions targets a wider range of individuals and entities associated with the Syrian government.

Critics have accused the Biden administration of not vigorously enforcing existing sanctions against Syria. Some argue that while sanctions provide leverage over Assad, they also risk worsening the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Lawmakers are concerned about Syria’s manipulation of its currency exchange rate with international donors. Syria’s currency has experienced significant devaluation since the start of the war, and lawmakers want an assessment of Damascus’ role in this manipulation.

Despite outreach efforts, Assad has struggled to secure funding for Syria’s reconstruction, which is estimated to cost around $250 billion. The sanctions and international reluctance to invest in Syria have hindered these efforts.

In summary, the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act of 2023 is a response to the evolving diplomatic landscape regarding Syria and aims to maintain pressure on the Assad regime through sanctions and increased transparency. It reflects ongoing debates about the effectiveness of sanctions as a foreign policy tool and the complex balance between exerting pressure and addressing humanitarian concerns in conflict zones.

China’s outreach to Syria signals its growing sway in the Middle East as a counterweight to West

A Chinese media outlet published an op-ed by Alessandro Arduino, in which he discusses the significance of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to China for a bilateral summit with President Xi Jinping. The visit is seen as a turning point in China-Syria relations and reflects China’s growing influence in the Middle East as a counterweight to Western powers. Here’s an analysis of the key points:

Arduino says Assad’s visit to China during the 19th Asian Games is a notable event given his international isolation due to sanctions and ostracism stemming from the prolonged Syrian civil war. It signifies China’s willingness to engage with leaders who are shunned by the Western world.

For him, while Western countries have largely avoided engaging with Assad, some Middle Eastern regional powers, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have shown cautious willingness to engage with him. This reflects a shift in the region’s dynamics, with some Arab states seeking to rehabilitate Assad.

China’s commitment to Syria, according to the op-ed, extends beyond the current visit. President Xi’s support for Syria includes backing its reconstruction efforts, enhancing counterterrorism capabilities, and promoting a political resolution in line with the “Syrian-led, Syrian-owned” principle.

It adds that Syria was among the first Arab nations to recognize the People’s Republic of China, and this historical connection has influenced China’s stance. Additionally, China has been concerned about the potential spread of the Arab Spring across the region.

Despite pledges of investments in Syria’s reconstruction, China’s economic slowdown raises doubts about the actual flow of substantial investments into the country. This situation is in contrast to China’s generous financing under the Belt and Road Initiative in the past.

China’s interest in Syria goes beyond its energy resources. It values the geopolitical significance of Syrian ports, Tartus and Latakia, which are strategically located for China’s broader Belt and Road plans, according to the article.

China faces competition from Russia and Iran in Syria’s reconstruction and broader influence in the region. Russia has openly expressed interest in Syrian ports, while Iran aims to participate in various sectors of the Syrian economy.

China’s diplomacy in the Middle East is evolving from a traditional non-interference policy to a more proactive role in regional affairs. This shift includes involvement in diplomatic efforts, like Saudi Arabia and Iran rapprochement.

China seeks to promote a multipolar world order that reduces Western dominance. It involves closer ties with Middle Eastern nations through organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Brics+ initiative.

While China’s engagement in Syria and the broader Middle East strengthens its diplomatic position, economic constraints at home could limit its ability to provide effective reconstruction assistance to war-torn nations.

The op-ed concludes that Assad’s visit to China and China’s broader engagement in the Middle East reflect the evolving dynamics in the region, with China positioning itself as an alternative player to Western powers. However, China faces challenges in balancing its diplomatic initiatives with economic constraints and competition from other regional actors.

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