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Time for EU-Syria deal to be signed: commissioner

Agence France Presse | 26 Jan 2011

Time for EU-Syria deal to be signed: commissioner

DAMASCUS — Stefan Fule, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, said in Damascus on Tuesday it is time for the long-dormant EU-Syria association agreement to be signed.

"I came with a clear message that we think the time has come to sign this association agreement," Fule told reporters in the Syrian capital after talks with Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.

He said he and Moallem had "very concrete discussion about those issues which still raise concern among our Syrian partners."

He had assured Moallem that an association agreement "is not an instrument to interfere in the domestic affairs of Syria but an instrument which is to be helpful to promote your national reform agenda."

"I made a personal commitment together with my colleagues to do our best to address outstanding issues this year," said Fule, who said he hopes to return to Syria this summer to sign the agreement.

The association agreement was first initialled in 2004 and had been due to be signed in October 2009, 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 European Union partners linking the agreement to Syrian respect for human rights.

A compromise stipulates that the draft text is accompanied by a separate declaration by European states providing an option to suspend the agreement in case of human rights abuses.

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

 source: AFP