The European Union will sign a partnership deal with Syria later this month, a diplomat told AFP Thursday, after years spent fretting over human rights concerns in Damascus.
"The deal is due to be signed with Syria on October 26 in Luxembourg," said the diplomat, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
The EU and Syria first drew up a draft pact in 2004 but it was never signed by EU nations -- with the Netherlands in particular demanding a clause allowing for its suspension in the event of proven rights abuses.
A Dutch diplomat said that once such an "emergency brake" was put in place, it would be happy to sign at the Luxembourg gathering.
According to another diplomatic source, the new treaty will help the union "develop a substantial dialogue on the human rights situation in Syria, which remains a source of concern to the EU.
"Respect for human rights constitutes one of the essential elements of the agreement," it says.
The EU froze relations with Damascus after the assassination in February 2005 of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, despite Syria's denials of involvement.
A renewing of ties between Damascus and Beirut, plus Syria's participation in a fledgling Mediterranean Union, helped overcome hostility as Europe looks to Syria to use its influence in the Middle East to work towards peaceful solutions over Israel and Iran.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem recently warned in Paris that "political conditions" would be unacceptable under any final accord.
But the source said that a compromise brokered by the EU's Swedish presidency will see a separate memorandum of understanding signed by European member states to deal with rights concerns.
It will "in substance say that the EU reserves the right to suspend the association accord," the diplomat underlined.
An updated text agreed in February this year envisaged the granting of financial aid to Syria in return for economic reforms, after which Syrian President Bashar Assad called in April for more European investment in his country.
He said Damascus had launched a series of reforms to liberalize its markets and drawn up the necessary legal framework for a reform of its financial and tax systems.