Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw indicated Monday the European Union was not inviting Syrian President Bashar Assad to a special Euro-Mediterranean summit later this month to mark the 10th anniversary of closer ties between the two regions.
The move was seen as a protest against insufficient Syrian cooperation with the U.N. inquiry into the Feb. 14 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Straw, whose country holds the EU presidency, did not answer when asked if Assad was invited, but said Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa "is being invited in the normal way to the Euro-Med meeting."
The summit is to draw leaders from across Europe, North Africa and Middle Eastern countries that border the Mediterranean to mark a decade of building closer cooperation. During that time, the EU has given billions of euros (dollars) in aid to encourage political and economic reforms and regional integration, the AP reports.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that the EU foreign ministers reiterated demands "that Syria cooperates with the (U.N.) inquiry," into Hariri's death. "Syria has to take this demand seriously," Douste-Blazy told reporters, adding the 25-nation bloc "will judge Syria on its actions."
EU nations have threatened sanctions against Damascus if it does not cooperate.
The EU foreign ministers called on Syria to "cooperate unconditionally" with the U.N. probe, and to "take immediate action to promote regional stability," to work with the government in Lebanon and to end support to Palestinian militant groups based in Syria.
A report last month by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, investigating the killing for the United Nations, implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in Hariri's assassination and accused Syria of not cooperating fully with the investigation. A.M.