Assad says cooperation with Europe Syria's priority

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sought to ease tension with EU after an economic and political deal between the two sides faltered.

Assad says cooperation with Europe Syria's priority

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sought to ease tension with the European Union on Thursday after an economic and political deal between the two sides faltered.

"As long as Europe is interested in peace, which is my priority, I have to have cooperation with Europe, whether it is the European Union or certain other (European) countries," Assad said after a meeting with Finland's President Tarja Halonen.

Syrian officials have not publicly commented on the reasons for not signing the deal, beyond saying that they needed more time to study the agreement, although the draft text was finalised and initialled in a ceremony in Damascus last December.

Assad did not mention the association agreement directly. He said a drive by Syria to strengthen relations with its northern neighbour Turkey in the last several years would not come at the expense of Europe.

"It is self evident that you have to start with your region, but this does not mean that you substitute it with the rest of the world. Europe is our neighbour with more communication means that there is no longer a distant area."

The agreement qualifies Syria for more aid from the EU, beyond the 500 million euros ($748.6 million) it has received since 1979, and opens its market further to European goods.

Syria's trade deficit hit a record of $4 billion last year, partly due to more imports from Turkey, which mediated peace talks between Syria and Israel that were suspended last year.

Human rights dimension

The agreement encountered opposition from the Netherlands, which voiced concerns about Syria's human rights record and its the rising number of political prisoners. Other European countries argued that it would strengthen the hand of what they termed as reformers within the Syrian government.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdallah al-Dardari, a proponent of economic reform close to Assad, had spearheaded Syria's efforts to sign the agreement.


Reuters
Last Mod: 23 Ekim 2009, 08:05
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