Reuters | 28 August 2004
By Lin Noueihed
DAMASCUS, Aug 28 (Reuters) - The European Union wants to sign a trade and aid pact that may ease Syria’s diplomatic isolation, but only if Damascus agrees to renounce weapons of mass destruction, Germany’s foreign minister said on Saturday.
"We have an interest in finalising the Association Agreement but for us it is crucial that the clause about weapons of mass destruction will be also accepted," Joschka Fischer told reporters after a meeting with his Syrian counterpart.
EU diplomats said this month that Syria was poised to accept tougher wording on nuclear, biological and chemical arms than it originally negotiated with Brussels, in a pact that has gained significance since U.S. sanctions took force in May.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa had said in July the 25-nation EU was reconsidering the controversial clause, which he called an Israeli demand, with a deal possible by September.
But Fischer said the European Union would not dilute the clause and urged Damascus to accept it.
"It is for the European Union important to reach an agreement about this clause, not to water down this clause," he said. "I think it is a great opportunity and this opportunity should be used by our counterparts here in Syria."
The executive European Commission negotiated a text with Syria in December but Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark complained it fell short of an EU commitment to make the fight against weapons of mass destruction a key plank of ties with third countries.
They agreed to add a clause on weapons to the pact diplomats say Syria is keen to finalise to offset U.S. sanctions imposed over its support for anti-Israeli groups, accusations it is doing too little to secure its border with Iraq, and alleged pursuit of unconventional arms.
The Europeans contend that engaging Syria would do more to promote economic, political and human rights reforms than isolation would, and hope Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will overcome the resistance of an entrenched "old guard" to reforms he pledged when he succeeded his late father in 2000.
"We have an interest in the opening of Syrian society, the economy. We see problems, bureaucratic problems. We see problems with respect to human rights," Fischer said, adding that Europe hoped for a substantial improvement, to boost cooperation.
Syria is the last full member of the EU’s Euro-Mediterranean partnership, known as the Barcelona process, yet to have concluded an association agreement with the wealthy bloc.
"The Mediterranean will define our security, our common security," Fischer said. "This is an important issue for the Europeans, the weapons of mass destruction clause. Not only does it reflect one of our basic approaches on a very sensitive issue but the European parliament has to vote on this."