"Little hope" as EU focuses on Syria, German minister says
( dpa ) - Relations between the European Union and Syria have deteriorated in the last year and are increasingly of concern, Germany's foreign minister said on Friday at an informal meeting with EU counterparts in Slovenia.
"We are certainly in a more difficult situation than we were last year ahead of the Annapolis peace conference. At that time, there was a hope that ( Syria's) participation in the conference could lead to further constructive steps," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
"It did not happen, and nobody (among the EU's foreign ministers), including me, has exaggerated hopes for a change in Syria's behaviour in the short term," he said.
Relations between Syria and the EU are currently governed by a cooperation deal signed in 1977. The two sides agreed an updated treaty in 2004, but EU member states have yet to ratify the deal, saying that Syria has not yet proved its willingness to act on key political and foreign-policy reforms.
However, Syria's economy, which is largely fuelled by oil revenues, is in urgent need of reform as the country's oil supplies start to dwindle - leading EU policy-makers to hope that Damascus could become more willing to engage with Europe in return for advice and funding to help restructure its economy.
Most recently, EU ministers had hoped for Syrian help to solve the ongoing crisis in Lebanon over parliament's failure to elect a new president, a hope which had not been fulfilled, Steinmeier said.
The informal meeting on Friday was scheduled to focus on Syria, in the context of a broader discussion of the Middle East peace process.
"One of the pressing issues of course is how to communicate with our Syrian partners," Slovenia's Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who hosted the meeting, said.
The EU should also "encourage dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis, between Hamas and Fatah," he said.