Iraqi Vice President Holds Talks with Syrian President, Prepares Trade Agreement
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday on a ground-breaking trip to Damascus meant to cement trade relations.
The Iraqi official's two-day visit is aimed at setting up a free trade zone between Iraq and Syria, similar to the one Baghdad and Cairo agreed upon on January 18.
"The establishment of a positive atmosphere between the two countries will be the basis for a strengthening of the mutual confidence which will enable us to take new steps in the direction of bilateral and Arab cooperation," Ramadan was quoted by AFP as saying.
Assad and Ramadan discussed "the situation in the region," the Syrian News Agency SANA said, adding that Ramadan's ministerial delegation and Syrian foreign minister, Farouq Shara, attended the meeting in the presidential palace.
Ramadan arrived in Damascus Monday with a ministerial delegation including Iraqi foreign minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, trade minister, Mahdi Saleh, and transport minister, Ahmad Murtada Ahmad.
AFP said that Ramadan and his advisers met in the evening with Syrian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mustapha Miro, with whom he is due to sign a trade accord Tuesday that will merge the two countries into "one market."
In Amman Monday, Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb said his country would also be holding talks with Iraq next week to set up a similar free trade zone between them, reported the Jordan Times newspaper.
The Iraqi-Syrian annual trade volume is $500 million, and is on the increase after bilateral ties witnessed considerable improvement.
Ramadan is the highest-ranking Iraqi officials to visit Syria since 1997, when the two countries started re-establishing relations, broken off in 1980 over Syria's support for Iran in its war with Iraq.
Both countries negotiated Sunday a plan to share the water of the Euphrates, according to officials at the Syrian ministry of irrigation.
The officials told Albawaba.com that Iraqi minister of irrigation, Taha Atrash, discussed during his current visit to Baghdad the details of a project for permanent split of the river's water to replace the present agreement.
Iraqi oil minister, Amer Rasheed, has recently announced that Iraq and Syria have agreed to build a new pipeline to replace the existing worn out one.
The minister was quoted in the press as saying the new line will have a capacity of 4.1 million barrels a day. The old pipeline, which extends from Karkok in the north of Iraq to the Syrian port of Banias, went out of service in 1982 after Damascus stood behind Iran in its war against Iraq.
According to Al Jomhoriyya daily on Saturday, Rasheed said the new pipeline will be laid in two stages: the first in Syria, while making do with the old part in the Iraqi territories, and then the Iraqi part will be built "when the financial status of Iraq improves."
Damascus has also pushed for a lifting of the 10-year-old embargo on Iraq, and a dozen Syrian planes have defied international restrictions by flying into Baghdad since Saddam International Airport's reopening in August -- Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)