Largest U.S. oil investor in Syria to quit

May 31, 2006 at 9:56 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, May 31 (UPI) -- The largest U.S. company investing in the oil and gas sector in Syria will soon quit after selling its shares, fearing further U.S. sanctions against Damascus.

A Western oil source told United Press International Wednesday that Marathon, the first and oldest investor in Syrian oil and gas "will leave the country after selling its shares and contract to PetroCanada."

"The decision was sparked by fears from additional sanctions that U.S. President George Bush is seeking to impose on Damascus in addition to problems between the U.S. company and the Syrian government," said the source who requested anonymity.

"At any moment President Bush can increase sanctions on Syria to cover investments as a further move following the Syria Accountability Act which he ratified in 2004," he said.

"It is true that the Syria Accountability Act which was endorsed by the Congress does not include U.S. investments, medical and food exports," he continued, "but the American president can at any moment increase sanctions in line with the same law."

The source said big companies have been investing between $100 million and $300 million "which constitute big investments no one can risk."

Marathon has been working in Syria since 1978 and the total value of its contract is $125 million.

The company faced many problems with the Syrian government, especially when it discovered gas, forcing the Syrian government at the end to agree on signing a new contract with Marathon giving it prospecting rights.

"But in view of the accumulating problems with the Syrian government we have reached an agreement under which we will relinquish our shares and contact to another oil company," the source said without identifying the buyer.

Western diplomatic sources, however, said PetroCanada will buy Marathon's shares.

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