‘We need reform to be partners with the EU’

Negotiations for Syria to become a partner of the European Union started in 1998, but they seem to be inconclusive up till now. What is the status of these negotiations and what is your vision for the relations of the Arab world with the European Union in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership? The last round of negotiations was less than two months ago; it was an important round in which many obstacles were overcome. Of course there is political will on both sides, in Syria and the European Union, to conclude these negotiations as soon as possible. Most of the problems are on the technical level, like agricultural quotas, aid and assistance offered to Syria and so on. Now, there is a new round of negotiations this week. Of course between the rounds of negotiations there are communications between officials of the two sides. I talked with (European Commission President Romano) Prodi recently; and we talk on all different levels in order to bridge gaps in understanding on controversial issues. The general perspective of this partnership is very important for the whole region. I think the whole Mediterranean basin is geopolitically one region, one bloc. So, we have an optimistic and hopeful vision of a partnership between the southern and northern sides of the Mediterranean, and even beyond. You know that Europe puts criteria for joining the European Union, and in its association agreements. We think that one of the most important criteria is commitment to the resolutions of the UN Security Council. (Regarding) the Israeli occupation of Arab lands: It is not possible to enter into partnership with a state that occupies your lands or does not abide by Security Council resolutions in relation to these lands. But, as to the general principle, we support the idea of partnership very strongly because it creates political stability; and that leads to security in the region, to economic and social prosperity. Concerning the controversial issues that you mentioned in discussions with the European Union: Is there some kind of European pressure for reform within Syria? I cannot say there is pressure for reform. On the contrary, we are actually asking them to support us in this reform. In order to reach a stage where we can benefit from this partnership, we need reform. There is no doubt that the first stage of the implementation of the association agreement will have negative impacts. If there are no reforms in Syria, then these negative impacts will even increase. So, in order to benefit from this partnership we need reform; and even without this partnership, we still need reform. This is a Syrian demand not a European one. But I would like to stress that in our relationship with the Europeans there is mutual respect. There are no pressures exchanged between us.