Israel urges EU: Reconsider Syria ties

The union says it feels a need to respond to a number of positive moves made by Syria recently.

assad sarkozy talk about tits 224 (photo credit: AP)
assad sarkozy talk about tits 224
(photo credit: AP)
With Syria and the European Union set to initial an association agreement formalizing ties on December 14, Israel is calling on the EU not to rush headlong into normalizing relations with an un-reformed Damascus. The EU's ambassador to Israel, Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal, said at a press briefing Tuesday that the EU felt a need to respond to a number of positive Syrian moves, including its decision to establish formal diplomatic ties with Lebanon, participation in a Mediterranean summit in Paris last July and the indirect talks with Israel in Turkey. According to Cibrian-Uzal, the European Commission was currently updating a 2004 association agreement with the Syrians that was never signed. After the agreement is initialed at a ceremony in Damascus in 11 days, it will be brought to the EU member states for approval and ratification, a process that needs a consensus of all member states. The association agreement, according to EU officials, would anchor EU-Syrian ties and put Syria's diplomatic relationship with the EU on par with the EU's relationship with other Mediterranean countries. The agreement, according to the officials, formalizes and provides a channel for political dialogue. Israel signed its own association agreement with the EU in 2000, and is now in the process of upgrading its relationship with the EU even further. Yossi Levy, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman for the Israeli media, said Israel "regretted" the EU's intention to initialize the agreement and called upon the Europeans not to "act hastily toward reaching an agreement with Syria in a way that will grant them a gift they don't deserve at this stage." Levy said Syria had done nothing since 2004 to show that it was genuinely interested in peace or calm in the region. "There is an unbearable discrepancy between what they say and what they do," Levy said. "They speak about peace and tranquility, but supply Hizbullah with arms, host the headquarters of terrorist organizations in their capital and are engaged in various unsavory activities in the Middle East." The argument inside the EU in support of the agreement with Syria is that there is a need to try and pull Syria westward, away from Iran, and that this type of agreement helps do just that. The EU-Syrian agreement is one of the issues high on Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's agenda for meetings with her counterparts in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday at a gathering of NATO foreign ministers. On her first day in Brussels, Livni came under some harsh questions over Israeli's polices in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the settlements at a meeting with members of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee. Indicative of some of the sharp tone of the questioning, Daniel ("Danny the Red") Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the European Greens-European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, asked Livni if she thought it was "normal" for Palestinian children to have to walk 90 minutes to school because of the roadblocks. Livni replied by saying that while it may take Palestinian children a long time to walk to school, school children in Sderot and communities near the Gaza Strip "sometimes can't go to school at all because of rocket attacks on them, their schools and pre-schools." Livni said that Israel was not interested in causing suffering for Palestinian school children, but that it was impossible to ignore the security situation and threats that Israel was under. The NATO ministerial meeting, meanwhile, ratified Tuesday an Individual Cooperation Program with Israel, an agreement that will strengthen and expand the working relations between Israel and NATO in the fields of security and diplomacy. According to the Foreign Ministry, the agreement opens the door for cooperation between Israel's security services and NATO in various fields, such as counterterrorism, and will increase the number of joint NATO-Israel military exercises.