EU urges Syria to support ME peace process

Syria risks harming relations with the EU if it does not commit itself to respecting Lebanon's sovereignty, helping to disarm Hizbullah and supporting wider Middle East peace efforts, the EU warned Wednesday. Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the EU presidency, said he hoped Damascus would play a positive role in reducing tension in the region. He said it was "crucial" that Syria, a neighbor to both Lebanon and Israel, support United Nations-led reconstruction and peace efforts in Lebanon. "We need to be ready to engage Syria," Tuomioja said during a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He added that it was Syria's choice whether to play the role of "a constructive partner or a spoiler; this will also determine the future EU relations with Syria." Syria initially said it was not in favor of UN peacekeepers patrolling the Lebanese-Syrian border, which Israel claims is being used as a major route for weapons for Lebanon-based Hizbullah. But last week Syria said it would step up border patrols and work with the Lebanese army to stop the flow of weapons to Hizbullah. Tuomioja said the EU welcomed "the stated intention and readiness of Syria" to respect UN resolutions on Lebanon "and also to be constructive in the comprehensive Middle East peace process." EU contributions to Lebanon's reconstruction total around €330 million (US$422 million), and EU nations have said they would contribute around 7,000 peacekeepers to bolster the U.N. mission in southern Lebanon.