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Solana says EU, Syria moving in right direction

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana met with Syrian President Bashir al Assad in Damascus on Sunday to discuss stability in the region. Solana is on the first leg of a four-day tour of the region.

Javier Solana and Bashar Al Assad

EU foreign policy chief Solana with Syrian President Bashar al Assad

Speaking to reporters in Damascus after talks with Assad, Solana said progress is being made in strengthening ties between Syria and the European Union.

The talks included bilateral relations, the peace process in the Middle East and Syrian-Iraqi relations.

Assad on Sunday called for stability in neighboring Iraq, days after Baghdad alleged that Damascus is sheltering suspects linked to a massive bombing targeting government ministries on August 19. The attacks killed 95 people and wounded 600, and Baghdad has demanded that Syria turn over one of the masterminds.

Assad spoke of "the need to reach national reconciliation in Iraq in order to achieve stability and security" there, during talks with Solana, according to the Syrian state-run SANA news agency.

damaged finance ministry in Baghdad

Iraq's finance ministry was targeted in the bombing

Assad has said that stability in Iraq is in Damascus's best interest, but relations between the two countries are at such a low point that Turkey has stepped in to see if it can try and resolve the differences between them.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is to visit Baghdad and Damascus on Monday August 31.

Free trade pact to take effect

Solana said that the EU was setting a plan for peace and stability in the region and that "Syria has an important role."

Assad said that he is in favor of a peace deal with Israel based on implementation of United Nations resolutions 242 and 338.

The resolutions call for Israeli withdrawal from territories it occupied during the 1967 war and include the Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Solana also said that an EU-Syrian association agreement will be signed sometime before the end of the year.

Even though Syria is a signatory to the 1995 Barcelona Declaration, which aims to establish a free trade area after 2010 with all non-EU Mediterranean countries, without an association agreement, Syria cannot benefit from the declaration.

At a joint press conference with Syrian foreign affairs minister al Muallim, Solana said that EU-Syrian relations are moving in the right direction.

Al Muallim said that for Syria, the "Palestinian dossier takes precedence," whether it is "freezing settlements, lifting the blockade on Gaza or making east Jerusalem Jewish."

From Damascus, Solana heads for Israel and talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. From there he goes on to Ramallah to visit with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

On Tuesday he will be in Lebanon and will make a stop in Cairo on Wednesday to round out the trip.

Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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