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Syria: timing of accord depends on EU ’flexibility’

AFP | 16 March 2010

Syria: timing of accord depends on EU ’flexibility’

DAMASCUS — Syria said on Tuesday it will soon restart talks with the European Union on a stalled partnership agreement, but that its timing will depend on the flexibility shown to Damascus over certain points.

"A European delegation will travel to Damascus to negotiate the points in the agreement that raise Syrian concern," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said at a news conference with visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"The date for signing the agreement will depend on the two parties, and on the degree of flexibility shown during the forthcoming negotiations," he added, without elaborating on points of concern to Damascus.

The association agreement had been due to be signed last October, but was deferred after President Bashar al-Assad said Syria wanted "to revise" certain clauses.

At the time The Netherlands insisted on including a separate document from its EU partners linking the agreement to Syrian respect for human rights.

Muallem said that both sides "share the same points of view. They want an agreement based on equality, respect for sovereignty and independence, and non-interference in internal affairs."

Ashton, who earlier met Assad, told reporters she hoped the talks would arrive at "a fine conclusion."

The prospective association agreement would allow EU financial assistance to Damascus in return for continued reforms.

Earlier this month, human rights groups in Syria urged the government to lift a 47-year-old state of emergency, free political prisoners and allow greater political freedoms.

The EU agreement talks were suspended after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafiq Hariri led to a plunge in relations, despite Syrian denials it was behind the Beirut bombing.

Ashton is on the second leg of a regional tour that began in Cairo and will also take her to Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

 source: AFP