World Tribune.com

EU will ignore U.S. sanctions
on Syria

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Sunday, May 16, 2004

LONDON 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 trade agreement.

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 partner.

"Sanctions don't ensure the appropriate climate for a constructive understanding, but they increase factors of tension in the region." Moratinos 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 cooperation with 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 us to 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.


Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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