12/11/2011 10:43 EST | Updated 02/10/2012 05:12 EST

Suncor Energy Inc. Withdrawing From Syria Following Imposition Of Sanctions


CALGARY - Canadian oil giant Suncor Energy Inc. says it is pulling out of Syria in order to comply with new international sanctions aimed at further isolating the regime of President Bashar Assad.

"The current situation in Syria is very concerning, and our thoughts are with the Syrian people as we hope for a return to peace as soon as possible," Suncor CEO Rick George said in a statement.

Pressure has been mounting on Suncor (TSX:SU) to pull out of the country since the sanctions took effect earlier this month.

The Calgary-based company had previously said it would continue its operations in Syria despite earlier international sanctions targeting the country's oil and gas exports, saying the natural gas it produced jointly with the state-owned General Petroleum Corp., was for domestic consumption only.

But after a careful review of the latest economic sanctions announced by the European Union on Dec. 2, the company concluded they applied to Suncor, said company spokeswoman Kelli Stevens.

Doing business in Syria and employing local people can be a positive contribution, said Stevens, but only if it can be done responsibly.

"We’ve placed a strong focus on being a responsible operator, particularly in a country affected by conflict. Operating responsibly also means complying with sanctions," said Stevens, who noted that since the unrest started in Syria, Suncor has been monitoring the situation "daily, hourly and sometimes more often than that."

"It’s a tough one and our hearts go out to the Syrian people," she added.

Suncor says it is working through a plan to safely withdraw its foreign staff and determine how it can best support Syrian employees.

It's impossible to say when Suncor would resume operations, Stevens said.

"We’d have to be assured that if we were returning to work it would have to be done safely, responsibly and in compliance with any relevant sanctions that might exist at that time."

The company downplayed the impact Sunday's decision would have on its revenue, saying the cash flow from its Syria operations _ about $200 million in the first nine months of 2001 — is less than three per cent of its overall cash flow. Suncor also says that it would not change its production guidance for this year and next as output in Libya — which was not included in the existing guidance — was rising.

The nine-month-old uprising against Assad has grown increasingly violent in recent months as once-peaceful protesters take up arms and defected soldiers who have joined the uprising fight back against the army.

The United Nations says more than 4,000 people have been killed in the nine-month-old uprising against Assad.