LONDON ø The European Union is preparing to welcome Syria as a
member of the Mediterranean Partnership.
EU officials said European ministers planned to meet their counterparts
from Middle East states today to welcome the participation of Syria as a member of
the Association Agreement. The agreement would allow for trade and other
benefits by Brussels to Damascus.
Syria was the last of nine Mediterranean states that concluded
negotiations with the EU for entry into the Association Agreement, Middle East Newsline reported. The
negotiations were hampered by a demand by Britain, France and Germany for
the regime of President Bashar Assad to guarantee the end of Syria's
weapons of mass destruction program.
In October, the EU reported that Brussels and Damascus reached an
agreement that resulted in the conclusion of negotiations. The EU did not
elaborate, but diplomats said Damascus did not pledge to dismantle its
biological or chemical weapons programs.
On Nov. 29, the Euro-Mediterranean Ministers for Foreign Affairs were
scheduled to meet in The Hague to commemorate
the 10th anniversary of their partnership, dubbed the "Barcelona Process."
Officials said a key issue on the agenda would be the conclusion of talks
with Syria for entry into the Association Agreement.
"The meeting will focus on three themes: a review of the process and its
future direction; economic reforms and investment; and social-cultural
aspects," an EU statement said on Nov. 26. "Ministers will welcome the
conclusion of negotiations with Syria for an Association Agreement with the
EU, which completes the grid of agreements with the EU's Mediterranean
The EU said it planned to grant $937 million to Middle East
states in 2004 in an effort to promote peace, particularly between Israel
and the Palestinians. The EU ministers were expected to discuss the aid with
PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath and Israeli Foreign
Minister Silvan Shalom.
"With the conclusion of negotiations with Syria [October 2004], the grid
of Association Agreements with Mediterranean
Partners has been completed," the EU statement said. "Association Agreements
are in force between the EU and Tunisia [since 1998], Israel , Morocco
, Jordan , Egypt  and on an interim basis with the
Palestinian Authority . Agreements were signed with Algeria in
December 2001, and with Lebanon in January 2002."