US Company Makes Deal to Drill in Syria’s Oil Fields
Tom O’Connor / Newsweek
(August 21, 2020) — Syria has accused President Donald Trump of stealing the country’s oil, after US officials confirmed that a US company has been allowed to operate there in fields under the control of a Pentagon-backed militia.
In remarks delivered Tuesday and sent to Newsweek by the Syrian permanent mission to the United Nations, representative Bashar al-Jaafari told the UN Security Council that “the US occupation forces, in full view of the United Nations and the international community, took a new step to plunder Syria’s natural resources, including Syrian oil and gas” through the recent establishment of a company called “Crescent Delta Energy.”
This firm, “with the sponsorship and support of the US Administration, has entered into a contract with the so-called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces/SDF’ militia, an agent of the US occupation forces in northeastern Syria, with the aim of stealing Syrian oil and depriving the Syrian state and Syrian people of the basic revenues necessary to improve the humanitarian situation, provide for livelihood needs and reconstruction,” he added.
The Syrian diplomat noted that Trump had made his intentions known earlier, such as in a late October press conference at which the president said he sought “to make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies” to take hold of oil in Syria. Trump has publicly professed “I love oil!” and that he was staying militarily involved Syria “only for the oil,” even as his officials insisted the Pentagon’s main focus was battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).
“Removing Daesh fighters, weapons, and explosive material remains a top priority as Daesh continues to plot attacks against innocent civilians and our partners throughout Iraq and northeast Syria,” the US-led coalition said, using an Arabic-language acronym for ISIS, in a press release sent to Newsweekon Thursday.
But that same day, Trump again voiced his view on the Syria mission: “As you know, in Syria we’re down to almost nothing, except we kept the oil. But we’ll work out some kind of a deal with the Kurds on that. But we left, but we kept the oil.”
News of an oil deal being struck between the US and the SDF, a mostly Kurdish force tasked with fighting ISIS on the ground, first emerged late last month as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified before the Senate. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he had spoken with SDF commander General Mazloum Abdi, whose forces “signed a deal with an American oil company to modernize the oil fields in northeastern Syria.”
Asked if the US was supportive of that arrangement, the US top diplomat said: “We are.”
“The deal took a little longer than we had hoped, and now we’re in implementation, it could be very powerful,” Pompeo said.
The following day, Al-Monitor cited anonymous sources revealing the name of the firm in question as “Delta Crescent Energy, LLC,” which had the full support of the White House in its Syria dealings. Politico later confirmed the name based on multiple sources familiar with the agreement.
The subject came up again during a press briefing last Wednesday with James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syria and special envoy for the campaign against ISIS. He declined to discuss the details of private business contracts as a matter of policy, but said the US does have “a responsibility to consider whether licenses should be issued to allow American companies to conduct economic activities that otherwise might be sanctioned.”
“That is something that we have done, including in this case,” he said, denying that the US was “involved in the commercial decisions of our local partners in northeast Syria.”
“We have not done anything other than license related to this firm,” he added. “Syrian oil is for the Syrian people, and we remain committed to the unity and territorial integrity of Syria. The United States government doesn’t own, control, or manage oil resources in Syria. You have heard the President’s position on the guarding of the oil fields. We don’t go beyond that.”
Newsweek contacted the Treasury Department in order to determine whether Delta Crescent Energy LLC, or any US company, had indeed been granted an Office of Foreign Assets Control license to operate in Syria as Jeffrey suggested.
“Treasury does not generally comment on or provide details on license applications or specific licenses that have been issued as the information contained within these licensing applications and determinations may be protected by the Privacy Act, the Trade Secrets Act, or other regulations governing OFAC’s licensing authorities,” a Treasury Department spokesperson told Newsweek.
The US has long faced accusations that its interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere were linked to the acquisition or control over energy resources. Comments sent by Syria’s UN mission to Newsweek also included an accusation that the “US Administration had allowed US oil companies, whose work was supervised by former US Vice President Dick Cheney, to extract Syrian oil from the occupied Syrian Golan in a flagrant violation of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.”
Shortly after the Trump administration announced last year he was repositioning US troops to prioritize control over oil, Newsweek cited leading observers expressing concern over the optics and legality of the decision, and on arrangements reached between the SDF to provide oil to the Syrian government. The complex equation is one of many comprising Syria’s multi-sided conflict, now in its 10th year.
Washington initially intervened in Syria’s civil war in favor of an insurgency that erupted in the wake of a 2011 uprising met with a government crackdown. Support from the US and regional partners for the increasingly Islamist rebellion ultimately subsided as backing the SDF against ISIS became a priority. But Turkey continues to back the opposition and has mobilized it against both Syrian government and SDF forces.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, aided by Russia and Iran and accused by the West of war crimes, now controls most of the country and has vowed to retake its entirety through diplomacy or force. In his latest speech made to cabinet members, the Syrian leader accused Israel, Turkey and the US of all trying to “implement one plan aimed at tearing Syria apart and plundering its wealth.”
Both Moscow and Tehran have echoed Damascus’ calls for an immediate withdrawal of US forces responsible for the loss of an estimated $40 million in annual oil revenue. An even higher cost has been incurred by US sanctions that seek to drain the Syrian government.
“The United States and its allies are united in continuing to apply pressure on Assad and his enablers until there is peaceful, political solution to the conflict. Assad and his foreign patrons know the clock is ticking for action,” the State Department said in a press release Thursday. “In the meantime, the United States will continue to impose costs on anyone, anywhere who obstructs a peaceful political solution to the Syrian conflict.”
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