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EU discreetly repairs ties with the Syrian regime


November 30, 2013 – European ambassadors and intelligence officials are making discreet trips to Damascus in a bid to resume contacts with the Syrian regime after years of outspoken support for the opposition, diplomats say. "Since May, little by little, we have begun to return, at first cautiously for a day, then two, then three," explained one European ambassador to Syria who has been based in Beirut since December 2012."Now we are going once or twice a month," the ambassador added...But a slew of envoys from Europe, including Austria, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and the EU’s charge d’affaires, now regularly make trips back to Damascus. Some even attended a briefing last week with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad...Even more discreetly, sources said, Western intelligence services have been making contact with their Syrian counterparts to test old ties...


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EU discreetly repairs ties with the Syrian regime

AFP-JIJI

November 30, 2013

BEIRUT – European ambassadors and intelligence officials are making discreet trips to Damascus in a bid to resume contacts with the Syrian regime after years of outspoken support for the opposition, diplomats say.

"Since May, little by little, we have begun to return, at first cautiously for a day, then two, then three," explained one European ambassador to Syria who has been based in Beirut since December 2012.

"Now we are going once or twice a month," the ambassador added.

Much of the diplomatic corps based in Damascus left the city last December.

More than 120,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 32-month-long conflict, which has also forced millions to flee their homes.

Of the EU nations, only Eva Filippi, the Czech Republic’s envoy, has remained in the Syrian capital throughout the civil war.

But a slew of envoys from Europe, including Austria, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and the EU’s charge d’affaires, now regularly make trips back to Damascus.

Some even attended a briefing last week with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad.

The diplomats are constrained by EU sanctions that bar contact with 179 Syrian officials accused of supporting a brutal government crackdown against the opposition.

The blacklist was drawn up as part of EU sanctions against the regime of President Bashar Assad in response to its suppression of peaceful demonstrations that began in March 2011.

"We can’t make contact with these people, but if we’re invited somewhere and one of them is present, we won’t turn our backs, and if they address us, we respond to them," said another European diplomat.

But Muqdad is not on the list.

"The EU never asked its members to close their embassies. It was more a gesture of support to the opposition, initiated by the 'Friends of Syria,’ " the ambassador said, referring to a group of nations that back the Syrian uprising.

The group, which has met regularly to pledge support to the opposition, includes France, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, all of which have expelled Syrian ambassadors.

"I think that in the first quarter of 2014, you’re going to see many of my European colleagues returning on the road to Damascus," the diplomat added.

The trend comes as the international community prepares for a peace conference slated for Jan. 22 in Geneva, which the diplomat said could speed up the return of envoys.

"Geneva will be a good reason for them to return. They can say that the political situation has now changed, so we can come back," he added.

Muqdad last week denied that Damascus is diplomatically isolated. "Syria has contacts and diplomatic relations. There are 43 diplomatic missions in Syria, which is not as isolated as some might claim," he said, quoted by state news agency SANA.

"Contacts are being made to open embassies (in Damascus) and most of Syria’s embassies abroad are still open, with the exception of those that Damascus does not want to open," Muqdad added.

Even more discreetly, sources said, Western intelligence services have been making contact with their Syrian counterparts to test old ties.

Some have even met with the all-powerful Syrian Secret Service chief, Gen. Ali Mamluk, whose name figures on the EU blacklist.

"The presence of more than 1,000 jihadists who have come from Europe to fight in Syria is a serious concern for the countries they come from," said a third Western diplomat.

"That’s why the security services of these countries want to resume cooperation with Syria that has been on hold for the last two years."

The diplomat said France, a leading critic of the Syrian regime, sent two of its agents to meet Mamluk and ask if he is ready to resume intelligence cooperation.

"He was very tough. 'We are ready for it, but do we want it? The answer is no. Not while your embassy remains closed,’ " the diplomat quoted Mamluk as saying.

He said Britain also approached the Syrian intelligence services, only to receive a similar response.




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:: Article nr. 102986 sent on 02-dec-2013 01:06 ECT

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