Prodi expects economic partnership with Syria this summer
The President of the European Commission Romano Prodi said here on Sunday he expected the EU and Syria to reach an economic association agreement by next summer.
"There will be a new round of negotiations for the association agreement," late March in Damascus, "and we expect to finalize it by next summer," Prodi told journalists at the end of a tour in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
He said his talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on Saturday and Sunday, "have eliminated many misunderstandings" about the agreement that the two sides have been discussing since 1998.
Syrian State Minister for Planning Issam Zaim said after the last round of negotiations, held last December in Brussels, that Syria feared mainly the impact of the agreement on its industry, and wanted to "take its time" despite the EU's desire to go quickly with the talks.
Zaim said Syria hoped to draw "an emergency strategy for economic rehabilitation" before signing the agreement that will give Europe preferential access to the relatively closed Syrian market.
The agreement will enable Syria to attract from the EU more investments needed for modernizing its infrastructures and boost its economy in order to respond to job demands put officially at more than 250,000 a year.
Prodi renewed the EU's "total support to the reform program" undertaken by Assad, who stepped up measures aimed at opening up the economy since he took power in July 2000, after the death of his long-ruling father Hafez al-Assad.
Syria has so far received from the EU a total of 73 million euros ($67 million) in grants and 190 million euros ($175 million) in loans to finance social and economic modernization and development programs.
Prodi also said "the peace process was at the crossroads" and assured that the EU was "ready to play its part in the full process."
On Saturday, he said the EU was "concerned" about the results of the Israeli elections and of "the position and past" of Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, whom he called on to form a "reasonable government." – (AFP, Damascus)
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)