By Mohammad Mazhari

Professor says U.S. oil deal with Syrian Kurds can be viewed as stolen property under American law

August 5, 2020 - 17:11

TEHRAN - The Syrian government, confirmed on Sunday, August 1, that an American oil company in an illegal deal aimed at stealing Syria's crude, had signed an agreement with Kurdish-led rebels who control northeastern oilfields.

The formal statement released by the Syrian state media said that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had signed an agreement with an unnamed U.S. company to extract and export oil.

The move has faced Turkey and Syria's condemnation, calling it "looting the Syrian people's national resources."

Before Syria's statement, Pompeo and Sen. Lindsey Graham hinted at a U.S. agreement to extract the oil during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, stirring up frantic speculation and driving a wedge between the Kurds and the Syrian central government.

In this regard, Nader Entessar, professor emeritus of political science from the University of South Alabama, tells the Tehran Times that the deal is an illegal one under international law, Syrian law and can even be viewed as stolen property under American law.  

"This is not the first time that a U.S. corporation has signed an oil agreement with a segment of another country without the required permission of that country's central authority," Entessar points out. 

"In 2013, for example, the U.S. oil giant Chevron announced that it had signed an agreement with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq to explore the Qara Dagh field.  This was Chevron's third oil agreement with the KRG."  

At the time, Iraq's central government slammed the Chevron agreement as illegal because the country's Oil Ministry had not approved them.

"In the case of Iraq, Chevron was undermining the authority of an American ally, but in the Syrian case, the agreement is even more brazen," Entessar notes.

He says if the U.S. administration decides to justify the agreement on legal grounds, it would probably argue that the Syrian government does not exercise de facto authority over the Kurdish region and that the real authority is in the hands of the Kurdish forces.
  
"This is a weak argument because the Syrian government is the internationally recognized authority and thus exercises de jure control over all of Syria," the American academic says.

In December 2018, Donald Trump announced that U.S. troops involved in the fight against the Daesh (ISIS) in northeast Syria would be withdrawn imminently. With such a surprise decision, Trump tried to show that Washington's policy in West Asia is going to be overturned.

However, after a while, Trump couldn't keep his word and said that he wants to keep U.S. forces in Syria to "secure the oil" held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. But the actual development of the oilfields has been mired in legal roadblocks and competition for a contract.

About possible withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria after the deal, Entessar seems doubtful.

"I don't think so. There is no organic link between the oil deal and a possible U.S. withdrawal from Syria.  In all likelihood, U.S. military operations in Syria will continue, although we will see ebbs and flows," he argues.” The U.S. may reposition its forces and even reduce the size of its military presence in Syria, but I do not believe it will withdraw from that country anytime soon.”

Pointing to U.S. withdrawal from international treaties unilaterally, Entessar emphasizes that the U.S. administration is not trustable in its deals.

"The record of the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from its international obligations and long-cherished treaties, especially in the past three years, speaks for itself," the professor notes.
 

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