* Syria's foreign reserves have halved -Juppe
* Oil output down 30 pct -diplomats
* Paris to host foreign ministers Thursday
By John Irish
PARIS, April 17 Western sanctions have halved
Syria's foreign currency reserves and should be stepped up to
force Damascus to comply with a U.N.-backed peace plan, France's
foreign minister said on Tuesday.
"We must maintain pressure on the Syrian regime. That means
strengthening sanctions that are having an impact on Syrian
authorities," Alain Juppe told officials meeting in Paris to
coordinate measures against President Bashar al-Assad.
Foreign ministers will meet in Paris on Thursday, a French
official told Reuters, to press Assad to respect a U.N.-backed
ceasefire. Ministers from Turkey, Qatar and U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton would be among those attending.
Juppe called for concerted policy: "We will judge the Syrian
authorities by their actions. Any violations must be followed by
a firm, swift response on the part of the Security Council."
At the conclusion of the meeting, which brought together
diplomats and treasury official from 57 countries, those
attending agreed to urge more countries to join in efforts to
"isolate" the Syrian government and called on businesses dealing
with Assad's authorities to break those ties.
"The main message was to enlarge the group and make
countries more serious about imposing sanctions," said an Arab
diplomat who said some neighbouring countries wanted exemptions
from joining in on some measures. "I'm a little disappointed,"
he said, "Because the international community should do more and
shouldn't be leaving the Syrian people to die like this."
Representatives of the Syrian opposition were also present.
Known as the "sanctions working group", the officials will meet
again next month in Washington.
International divisions over how to deal with the Syrian
crisis has seen sharp debates over sanctions.
"Certain countries are unambiguously signaling their support
for the Syrian regime, others are more or less directly offering
alternative deals," Juppe told the meeting.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose
government has been a key defender of Assad in the U.N. Security
Council, indirectly criticised Western and Arab states whose
support for Syrian rebels was, he said, obstructing a dialogue
within the country that could resolve the crisis.
Juppe said Syria's foreign reserves had been cut in half by
the sanctions - led by the European Union and United States. The
reserves were estimated at $17 billion before protests began 13
months ago which prompted a government crackdown.
Diplomatic sources estimated the sanctions had cut Syria's
oil output by 30 percent, costing Assad's government $400
million a month in revenue, or $2 billion since November. Prior
to EU sanctions, Damascus sold 90 percent of its oil to Europe.
The Syrian pound hit a record low on the black market in
March of around 100 to the dollar, compared to 47 before the
protests erupted, sharply raising the cost of imports.
Diplomats said that sort of economic difficulty would over
time increase the pressure on Assad's government.