LONDON ø The European Union has decided to ignore U.S.
sanctions on Syria.
EU officials said the Bush administration's decision to impose economic
sanctions on Damascus would not affect plans by Brussels to increase trade
with Syria. They said the EU planned to maintain a high-level dialogue with
the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to facilitate the signing of a
On Sunday, European Commission Vice President Loyola de Palacio was
scheduled to arrive in Damascus to meet Assad and other Syrian leaders.
Officials said the discussions would focus on the role of Syria in a
regional energy network. Syria exports natural gas and has proposed serving
as a way-station for the transfer of Egyptian gas to Europe.
Spain, which invited Assad to Madrid in early June, has criticized the
U.S. sanctions on Syria. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos said
Europe and Spain must cooperate in supporting Syria as a Euro-Mediterranean
"Sanctions don't ensure the appropriate climate for a constructive
understanding, but they increase factors of tension in the region."
said. "They have to develop and defend the fruitful relations with Syria."
Britain was the only EU member to support the U.S. decision to impose
sanctions on Damascus. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his government
shares U.S. concerns over Syria's weapons of mass destruction programs and
its harboring of groups deemed terrorists.
"We have concerns also about WMD, terrorism, human rights and
cooperation over Iraq," Dean MacLaughlin, a spokesman for Blair, said. "We
expect Syria to take these concerns seriously. In particular, we expect
Syria to take a constructive approach to the situation in Iraq and work with
us to restore
stability and aid Iraq's reconstruction."
But the British goverment ruled out imposing similar sanctions on
Damascus. London has sent a series of military delegations to discuss
Syria, but does not export lethal weapons to Damascus.
"We have similar objectives and concerns to the U.S., but we pursue
those through a policy of critical and constructive engagement which allows
encourage and support reform while talking frankly and robustly about issues
of concern," MacLaughlin said. "Sanctions are a matter for the EU as a
whole, not individual countries."
Political sources said senior figures in Blair's Labor Party have urged
the prime minister to disassociate from Washington's policies in the Middle
East. They said a key area where Britain should not follow the United States
regards sanctions against Syria.