* Paris to hold meeting to evaluate effect of sanctions
* Oil output down 30 pct, $520 mln lost revenue per month
By John Irish
PARIS, April 17 Western sanctions on Syria have
almost halved its foreign currency reserves and reduced oil
production by 30 percent, costing Bashar al-Assad's government
400 million euros ($520 million) a month in revenue, French
diplomatic sources said.
Officials from almost sixty countries, including the
European Union and the Arab League, meet in Paris on Tuesday to
discuss the efficiency of sanctions imposed on Syria to raise
pressure on Assad to comply with a U.N.-backed peace plan.
"We haven't got a perfect measurement instrument to tell us
when the regime will no longer be able to function, but we are
seeing an extremely strong decline in foreign reserves. About
half," one French diplomatic source said.
Foreign reserves were estimated at $17 billion before the
unrest broke out more than a year ago.
The European Union and United States have led the response
to Syria's violence with a broad range of sanctions, which
include a ban on Syrian oil imports to Europe and measures
against the Syrian central bank.
Prior to EU sanctions Damascus sold 90 percent of its oil to
Europe and with that market closed Syrian production has now
fallen 30 percent. Sources estimate lost revenues at about 400
million euros a month, or a total $2 billion since November.
"With the deteriorating economy there is a hyperinflationary
context, sharp collapse of the currency and a fall in revenues.
That pressure will eventually be felt," said a second source.
Tuesday's meeting will be attended by diplomats and finance
ministry officials. While not expected to decide on new
measures, the 57 countries will outline measures they have taken
against Damascus and discuss how to ensure their implementation.
U.N. peace monitors arrived in Syria on Monday to oversee a
ceasefire undermined by persistent violence and the shelling of
opposition stronghold of Homs by forces loyal to the Syrian
"(Arab League-U.N. envoy) Kofi Annan needs us to apply
pressure through targeted and coordinated sanctions so that
Syria has no choice," the French diplomatic source said.
"If we don't make Syria feel the consequences of its actions
then it has no interest in playing the game," he said.
A new round of sanctions might be adopted when European
foreign ministers meet in Brussels on April 23.
The Arab League has also slapped sanctions on Syrian VIPs,
and recommended stopping commercial and passenger flights to and
from Syria. However, unlike the EU, which imposes sanctions
collectively, the Arab League imposes them individually and some
states have been reticent in applying them.
Iraq and Lebanon, neighbours of Syria which have sensitive
sectarian, strategic and trade relationships with Damascus, have
declined to join the League's sanctions campaign and will not
attend the Paris meeting. Jordan is also concerned sanctions
will hurt its economy and participants will discuss how Syria's
neighbours can be helped financially.