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Syria to join EU trade group, despite WMD concerns

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Monday, November 29, 2004

LONDON 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 Partners."

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 [2000], Morocco [2000], Jordan [2002], Egypt [2004] and on an interim basis with the Palestinian Authority [1997]. Agreements were signed with Algeria in December 2001, and with Lebanon in January 2002."


Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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