Monday

21st May 2018

EU justifies keeping Syrian ambassador in good books

  • Barroso (l) receives diplomatic credentials from Soussan back in November 2007 (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Extra details have emerged on the three Syrian diplomats dubbed personae non gratae in the EU capital.

The men are: Mohammed Ayman Soussan (Syria's ambassador to Belgium and to the EU); Wael Saker (an attache in the Syrian embassy to Belgium, who is also accredited to the EU); and Safwan Bahloul (a third secretary in the Syrian embassy to Belgium).

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Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said on Tuesday (29 May) he did it because of the "extreme horror ... of the massacre committed in Houla [in western Syria]."

Only Bahloul actually has to leave Belgium, however. The other two can stay because the EU institutions have not blackballed them.

The EU could do it if all 27 member states and the European Commission agree. But nobody proposed the move when they met in Brussels on Tuesday in the Political and Security Committee to discuss Syria.

An EU contact said this is because of "reciprocity."

In diplomatic practice, if one side throws out an ambassador, the other side reciprocates. But the European External Action Service (EEAS) is keen to keep its ambassador in Syria to gather information. Four EU countries who earlier closed their missions in Syria are also operating out of the EEAS office in Damascus.

One EU diplomat who knows Soussan said he is a "career diplomat" and "not part of the security apparatus."

EUobserver interviewed Soussan in February 2011 shortly before the troubles began in Syria. He said people want stability more than reform because of the bad example of Iraq.

Saker is a different kettle of fish.

The Belgian state security service is looking into allegations that he is an officer in the secret police who has threatened to harm relatives in Syria of Belgium-based Syrian opposition supporters.

He is also accused of driving a black Mercedes with CD plates at high speed at protesters outside the Syrian embassy in Brussels in February, hitting one man in the leg.

The Syrian embassy denies it.

Reynders' decision leaves just three people in the Syrian embassy with diplomatic accreditation for Belgium: first secretary Khaldoun Zaffaranji; third secretary Yamen Yassouf; and Rima al-Hakim, a young woman who is Soussan's personal assistant.

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