DAMASCUS — Syria indicated on Thursday it might not sign a partnership deal with the European Union on October 26 as announced in Brussels last week, saying it wanted to study the deal in detail.
"The accord was frozen by the EU in 2004," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said at a press conference with his visiting Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos. "The European decision not to sign surprised us and, consequently, the Syrian government wants to study all the details of the deal.
"If the goverment concludes its review during the Swedish presidency (of the EU, which ends on December 31) we will sign the accord. If not, we will sign it during the Spanish presidency," which begins on January 1.
On October 8, a diplomat in Brussels said the "deal is due to be signed with Syria on October 26 in Luxembourg".
The EU and Syria first drew up the draft pact in 2004 but it was never signed by EU nations. The Netherlands, in particular, had demanded a clause allowing for its suspension in the event of proven rights abuses.
The EU froze relations with Damascus after the assassination in February 2005 of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, despite Syria's denials of involvement.
Muallem recently warned in Paris that "political conditions" would be unacceptable under any final accord.
But the source said a compromise brokered by the Swedish presidency would see a separate memorandum of understanding signed by the Europeans to deal with rights concerns.
It will "in substance say that the EU reserves the right to suspend the association accord," the diplomat underlined.
An updated text agreed in February envisaged the granting of financial aid to Syria in return for economic reforms, after which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called in April for more European investment in his country.
He said Damascus had launched a series of reforms to liberalise its markets and drawn up the necessary legal framework for a reform of its financial and tax systems.
Meanwhile, Moratinos said Spain would push Israel to re-engage in the peace process with the Palestinians.
Moratinos is accompanying Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on a regional tour that will take them to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.
He said Spain would "make every effort to encourage the Israeli authorities to engage in the peace process in a more effective way ... which is a vital necessity after 60 years of conflict" between Arabs and Israelis.
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