November 30, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2666

Editor of Syrian Daily 'Al-Watan' Doubts Whether Syria Needs Partnership Agreement with EU

November 30, 2009
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 2666

The Syria-EU partnership agreement was meant to be signed October 26, 2009 after a freeze of several years; however, Syria has clarified that it wishes to postpone the signing. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said during his visit to Croatia in late October that his country wants to advance cooperation, but not partnership, with the EU; Syria, he said, does not want to sign the agreement when it is not strong economically, and also does not want the interference in its domestic affairs that goes along with the agreement.

In a November 3, 2009 editorial in the Syrian daily Al-Watan, editor Waddah 'Abd Rabbo wondered whether Syria needed a partnership agreement with Europe. He said that Syria had already proved that it is capable of carrying out economic reform without external help, and that what was needed was a real agreement that will serve the interests of both parties.

Following are excerpts from his editorial:

"Assad [Always] Refused to Make Concessions, Even Token Ones, and Always Preferred the National Interest to the Interests of Others"

"President Assad's statements to members of the Syrian media who accompanied him on his visit to the Croatian capital Zagreb came at a time when there was much talk on the reasons for the postponement of the signing [of the partnership agreement with the EU] by Syria, whether political, economic, formal, or symbolic. The president said clearly that Syria had supported, and still supports, partnership with the EU, but not at the expense of its own interests. What was good in 2004, when the negotiations with the Europeans were completed, is not good today; for this reason, signing [the agreement] requires judicial, technical, and national discussion.

"Assad revealed to the media that he had asked all government ministers and economists to examine this agreement's ramifications for all sectors of the Syrian economy - what Syria would gain and lose, and what stages it must undergo before the agreement will be of benefit to it and serve its needs. President Assad said that the Syrian economy had progressed and developed greatly, but that it had not yet reached a sufficient [level] to permit it to compete in the European market. For this reason, the partnership agreement must be closely examined, to discover how and where the Syrian economy can benefit [from it.].

"It is clear that Syria is not planning to be politically polite at the expense of its national interests. This [conduct] by Assad is not new. Even when we were tormented by political pressures, he refused to make concessions, even token ones, and always preferred the national interest to the interests of others, rejecting the idea [of signing] agreements that serve Syria in the short term but [in the long term] harm its supreme interests and the future generations.

"President Assad explains his position by saying that recent years have proven that the Syrians can carry out reform in their economic system, and can open up to the world, without help, partnership, or even support from the Europeans, and that Damascus sees no need to hasten to sign. On the contrary - it would rather discuss and examine [the agreement] before it marches in that direction, in the belief that partnership must yield equal benefit to Syria and to the Europeans, and that friends support each other and do not interfere in each others' decisions and sovereignty. This is what partnership means in Damascus's view..."

"Assad Did Not Conceal Syria's Resentment at How the Europeans Informed the Syrians of Their Consent to Sign the Partnership Agreement - After They Froze It for Five Years"

"Assad did not conceal Syria's resentment at how the Europeans informed the Syrians of their consent to sign the partnership agreement - after they froze it for five years. He did not conceal Syria's resentment at several European countries, particularly those connivers who [permit themselves] to teach [Syria about] human rights but refuse to vote for the Goldstone Report, or else abstain [in the vote]...

"President Assad is not interested in false partnership with the Europeans; he wants genuine political and economic partnership. He has clarified that Syria is not seeking token partnership, but real partnership, like [Syria's] partnership with Turkey, and one based first of all on trust between the [countries' leaderships] and the[ir] peoples. These things prove Damascus's credibility vis-à-vis the partners that it seeks, in Europe or anywhere else in the world.

"Assad has opened the gate to discussion, and Syrians of all sectors must examine closely how, when, and where Syria can benefit from the partnership agreement with the EU, such that its interests will be actualized."

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