A member of the Syrian security forces guides a tank in the district of Al-Waar in the city of Homs on May 2, 2012.
A member of the Syrian security forces guides a tank in the district of Al-Waar in the city of Homs on May 2, 2012. - 
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Jeremy Hobson: A human rights group supportive of the opposition in Syria says more than 17,000 people have been killed so far in the 16-month uprising against the Syrian government. And the Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that the Syrian regime is getting some help in the form of diesel from Venezuela.

Keith Johnson co-wrote the Journal story and he joins us now. Good morning.

Keith Johnson: Good morning.

Hobson: Well what exactly does your reporting tell you that Venezuela is doing for Syria right now?

Johnson: Well right now they're sort of lending them a lifeline by sending them refined product. In this case they are sending them an ultra low sulfur diesel that the Syrians need to keep their regime going. Syria is sort of a pariah state, most of the Europeans won't do business with them. Venezuela has stepped in as a breach.

Hobson: And when you said 'keep their regime going,' how important is diesel in terms of doing that?

Johnson: Well from what we understand it's actually doubly important. On the one hand, just for the general economic activity -- of course they need diesel for the tractors, farm machinery, things like that. But in particular, the T-72 tanks the Assad regime uses, they do run on the diesel as well. And so some of the Syrian opposition movement leaders have told us that this diesel is vital to keep Assad's military forces in the field.

Hobson: And what's the U.S. saying about this?

Johnson: Well the U.S. is kind of caught because unlike the sanctions on Iran, which are very far ranging and quite powerful, the current law in terms of sanctions on doing business with Syria, it affects U.S. companies and U.S. nationals. It doesn't say anything about a Venezuelan oil company doing business with these guys.There's some movement afoot in congress to try to patch over those problems. We may see some legislative action to try to come up with a tougher sanctions regime for Syria.

Hobson: Keith Johnson is a staff reporter at the Wall Street Journal, thank you so much for talking with us.

Johnson: Thank you.


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