BRUSSELS (May. 22)
Syria has rejected a suggestion by the European Community that a Middle East peace conference could convene without the United Nations participating at the start.
The proposal was shot down by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Sharaa at a news conference Tuesday in Luxembourg.
“As far as Syria is concerned, the structure of the conference is important,” Sharaa said. “We believe that the structure cannot be separated from the substance.”
The Syrian minister spoke in response to a statement by Jacques Poos, the foreign minister of Luxembourg and current chairman of the E.C. Council of Ministers.
Poos observed that “to launch the (peace) process, it could be useful to convene the meeting with the participants stated in the peace propositions of U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.”
That would include the various countries of the region, as well as the United States and Soviet Union, but not other members of the U.N. Security Council, as Syria has insisted.
“Maybe later, the United Nations will have to play a role, but why should we consider the presence of the United Nations an important event to decide upon now?” said Poos.
“For us, this is a formal question, not a fundamental one,” he stressed.
A U.N. role, which Israel opposes, is one of the main points in its dispute with Syria over the nature of the conference. That unresolved difference, according to Baker, is the most serious obstacle to his recent efforts to arrange a conference.
E.C. TRADE TIES WITH SYRIA EXPLORED
Poos said the E.C. shares the view of Syria and other Arab parties that the peace conference should be a continuous affair “in order to assess the situation or give a new impetus.”
Israel insists the conference can serve only as a ceremonial opening for parallel direct talks it would hold with the Arab states and Palestinians. The conference would adjourn as soon as those talks began.
Syria’s relationship with the E.C. was the main subject of Sharaa’s meeting with Poos and the foreign ministers of Holland and Italy, Hans van den Broek and Gianni De Michelis.
They presently constitute the so-called “troika,” the three foreign ministers assigned by the E.C. to deal directly with Middle East affairs.
Van den Broek will assume the E.C. chairmanship on July 1. Michelis is Poos’ immediate predecessor.
The E.C. and Syria are linked by a trade and cooperation agreement, but cooperation was frozen four years ago because of suspicion that Syria was involved in international terrorism.
Now, however, both parties are prepared to develop their economic ties. “There is a great future for this cooperation,” Poos said.
An E.C.-Syrian financial protocol has yet to be approved by the European Parliament, the community’s legislative body, which meets in Strasbourg, France.
Some deputies are reluctant to resume cooperation with Damascus because of its poor human rights record.