Syria Seeks to Re-establish Economic Ties with Europeans

In a move aimed at relaunching economic and political ties that were broken off several years ago between Syria and the European Union, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa will meet his 12 E.U. counterparts here at the end of the month.

Citing human rights violations, the European Parliament – the E.U.’s legislative body – has been blocking aid to Syria, valued at some $370 million.

But earlier this year, the Parliament unblocked the aid, citing improvements in Syria’s human rights record as well as a desire to move the Middle East peace process forward.

Visiting Damascus last week as part of a Middle East fact-finding mission, a high-ranking E.U. delegation met with Syrian officials to discuss bilateral relations with the E.U. as well as the Middle Eat peace process.

The U.S. has, meanwhile, proposed an initiative that would strengthen its economic and political ties with the countries of the Mediterranean, including Israel, through a program that could lead to the world’s biggest free-trade zone. Such a zone, created by the year 2010, would comprise some 600 million to 800 million people and 30 to 40 countries.

The Europeans also have proposed increasing aid to the Mediterranean countries – particularly to Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria – for the next five years from $3.2 billion to $7 billion.

The program will be voted on next month by the E.U. at its summit conference in Essen, Germany.

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