US oil mission may hit India’s investment prospects in Syria

NEW DELHI: US President Donald Trump’s recent statement that the US was ``keeping the oil’’ in Syria may be aimed at checkmating China and Russia but India could well be a collateral damage.

editorial@tribune.com

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 5

US President Donald Trump’s recent statement that the US was ``keeping the oil’’ in Syria may be aimed at checkmating China and Russia but India could well be a collateral damage. Trump last month had announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria but rescinded the decision because “we are keeping the oil, we have the oil, the oil is secure, we left troops behind only for the oil’”.

That, however, jeopardises Indian holding in the exploration of oil and natural gas in Block 24 near Deir ez-Zor in northern Syria. That was the time when China and India were trying to avoid mutually debilitating contests and decided to jointly take up states in oil interests in third countries. A year after India was awarded Block 24, it partnered with China to buy 37 per cent of oil assets in Syria that belonged to the Canadian Oil Co. at a cost of $573 million.

Under Trump’s strategy, US soldiers will be deployed over 150 km of land from al-Hassakeh to Deir el-Zour where the Indian oil block is situated. This has caused disquiet not only among the existing legal owners but in the US as well. US Senator Tim Kaine has said, “Risking the lives of our troops to guard oil rigs in eastern Syria is not only reckless, it’s not legally authorised.”

Trump has gone ahead and announced that oil giants Exxon Mobile and Chevron would take up the task of taking out and processing the oil. Strangely, none of the two companies has commented on Trump’s unsolicited offer that could tremendously benefit them, giving them the much-sought-after outlet for oil to the Mediterranean while elbowing out India, China and other stakeholders who were rewarded for standing by the Assad regime despite almost continuous pressure by the US for the last two decades.

India had hoped that with the latest agreement between Turkey and Russia to jointly patrol a swathe of land in northern Syria would stabilise the situation adequately to allow it to put its plans in motion. India’s public sector undertakings such as from the power and railways sector have been involved in Syria since the time of Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez.

Having sensed that the situation in Syria is close to getting stabilised, India sent feelers in June this year to Damascus in an attempt to get involved in reconstruction efforts of the war ravaged country at an estimated cost of over $ 200 billion. It is also keen to capitalise on its investments made in the oil block well before conflict broke out in 2011. It then joined hands with China to acquire 37 per cent stake in Syrian Al Furat Petroleum Company which translates into a share of about 13,000 barrels per day. But if Chevron and Exxon Mobile are encouraged to move in by Trump, India may well have to remain by the sidelines.

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