AFP | 19 October 2004
EU and Syria initial long-awaited association pact
The European Union and Syria Tuesday initialled an association agreement that commits both sides to work towards free trade — as well as against weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.
Syria was the only Mediterranean country in the EU’s "Barcelona process" — launched in 1995 with the aim of bolstering trade and political ties in the region — not to have concluded an association agreement thus far.
"We have been discussing this agreement for seven years," said EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, referring to a "geostrategic partnership".
"It was a tough negotiation: it is not just a trade agreement, it’s more significant, with political issues."
"Syria has consistently sought an effective European role in Middle East," Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sharah said
The agreement provides for the creation of a free-trade area between the EU and Syria as part of the larger goal of a "Euro-Mediterranean" free-trade zone by 2010.
It deals with trade in goods and services, rules governing public contracts, the protection of intellectual property rights and cooperation in fields including customs, transport, tourism and the environment.
In the political sphere it establishes a framework for a regular political dialogue. It includes "essential provisions on respect for the democratic principles and fundamental human rights, cooperation to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and anti-terrorism".
The question of the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction had until now hampered a closure to the accord.
Syria is the object of international suspicion, particularly in Washington, for its military and political involvement in neighbouring Lebanon as well as its alleged support for Islamic terrorism.
But the EU’s executive commission said the association negotiations were now complete and both sides had initialled the document ready for its approval by their respective governments and parliaments.
While in Brussels Sharah rejected a new call by the UN Security Council for Syria to remove its troops from Lebanon as "illegal intervention".
After days of diplomatic haggling, the 15-member UN Security Council agreed Tuesday on a statement calling on Damascus to comply with resolution 1559 adopted in September that demanded the military pullout.
"Our position remains as it was... (Resolution) 1559 is illegal intervention in the Syrian-Lebanese bilateral relationship," Sharah told reporters.
"There are still disagreements," Patten said. "Today’s UN statement is the most obvious."