EU envoys returning on road to Damascus: Diplomats

EU envoys returning on road to Damascus: Diplomats
Mon Dec 2, 2013 19:08:37

European ambassadors and intelligence officials are making discreet trips to Damascus in a bid to resume contacts with the Syrian officials 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.

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

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 earlier this week with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

The diplomats are constrained by EU sanctions which bar contact with 179 Syrian officials accused of crackdown against the foreign backed militant groups.

“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 Mekdad 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 (so-called) ‘Friends of Syria,’” the ambassador said, referring to a group of nations which back the continuation of Syria crisis.

The group, which has met regularly to pledge support to the anti-government militant groups, 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.


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