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Jordan seeks exemption from sanctions on Syria

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Jordan has asked the Arab League to be exempt from the bloc’s sanctions on Syria over concerns of the toll they will take on the kingdom’s already ailing economy, a senior government official said Thursday.

The Arab League imposed economic sanctions on Syria last month to try to pressure Damascus to end its bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.

“Jordan supports the Arab consensus regarding the sanctions on Syria, but we have to cater to our economic interests,” the official said, insisting on anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

Syria is one of Jordan’s biggest Arab commercial partners, with bilateral trade estimated at US$525 in the first nine months of this year. The country also serves as a gateway for Jordan's trade with Lebanon, Turkey and Europe, and Damascus has $500 million in deposits in Jordanian banks and multimillion dollar investments here.

The official said Jordan contacted the Arab League two weeks ago, seeking the exemption based on a clause in the League's sanctions decision, which states that the embargo must take into consideration the interests of Syria’s neighbors. Jordan expects an answer from the League soon, he said.

Jordan is already saddled by a record $2 billion budget deficit this fiscal year, high unemployment and poverty, and the impact the sanctions on Syria might have on Jordan’s economy have clearly been a major concern for the government since the League imposed the measures.

Last week, Prime Minister Awn al-Khasawneh told parliament that Jordan was seeking to ease the effect of the sanctions on the nation’s economy, but provided no details. On Wednesday, the government said it has asked Iraq to allow Jordan to export goods bound for Turkey and Europe via Iraqi territory if Syria seals off its border.

Jordanian truck drivers say stringent security checks - because of the ongoing uprising in Syria - at the border have caused a backup of trucks and left drivers and their goods stranded for several days at the Syrian frontier.