Syria says US must lift sanctions to renew ties

The United States must lift its sanctions on Syria if President Barack Obama wants to normalise fractured ties, a senior Syrian official said on Tuesday.

Syria says US must lift sanctions to renew ties

"In principle, to have normal relations between Syria and the United States, sanctions should be lifted. This is going to be a very important part of any dialogue between Syria and the United States," Abdullah al-Dardari, Syria's deputy prime minister for economic affairs, told Reuters in an interview.

It was the first time Syrian authorities have publicly linked rapprochement with the Obama administration to a lifting of sanctions, which have taken their toll on the country's economy and contributed to years of international isolation.

Relations between Syria and the West nosedived after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, even though Syria denies any involvement in the killing. Concerns about whether Syria has a secret nuclear programme -- which it also denies -- have exacerbated tension.

After taking office, Obama said Syria had to be taken into account in U.S. efforts to "stabilise the Middle East", and President Bashar al-Assad has said he was ready to cooperate with the new president.

"In general, we hope to see a different policy in Washington because the previous policy failed completely and Mr. Obama has been promising change," Dardari said.

The deputy prime minister, who is Syria's point man on major projects, said the impact of sanctions had been limited with foreign direct investment still increasing by some 30 percent a year, but he said they had been a psychological deterrent for some foreign investors.

If sanctions were lifted, "it may have a positive psychological impact on investment. I don't know whether U.S. companies will pour into Syria the next morning. If they decide to, ahlan wa sahlan (welcome)."

Dardari said Syria was feeling the strain of the global economic downturn, even if the impact on its nascent banking sector had been limited, and was eager to attract more foreign investment -- particularly from its main trading partners in Europe and other Arab states.

"Syria has foreign trade of about 70 percent of its GDP. That means its exposure to external factors is very big. Therefore we have been considering what impact this will (have) on investment. Is the money drying up in the Gulf to the point that they will not be interested in Syria?"

He said Syria, which is emerging from decades of command economy, was hoping to attract private investments in its infrastructure, including the energy and power sector, highways, airports and ports, through a public-private partnership strategy and related legislative framework.

With this, "we can bring in a large part of the need. Our estimated need is about $50 billion from now till 2020 for the rehabilitation of the Syrian infrastructure," he said.

In addition, "Syria will need around 200,000 new housing units in the next five years. The third area is tourism, where we have to finish building 40,000 new beds in Syria by 2015 to absorb 8 million tourists. That's the target."

In order to push economic reforms and stimulate investment, Dardari said the country would have to liberalise the labour market, increase domestic competition, continue to develop the financial system and introduce a solid regulatory framework.


Reuters

Last Mod: 04 Şubat 2009, 17:17
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