Syria claimed on Tuesday that President Bashar Assad had already rejected an invitation to a Euro-Mediterranean summit the day before the European Union revealed that he was not going to be invited.
Further, said Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah, Assad received a written invitation to the gathering from British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sept. 26. Dakhlallah said the Syrian leader declined on Sunday "because Europe has not so far signed the Syrian-European partnership agreement."
"Syria considers the signing of the EU-Syria agreement as conducive for maintaining the Syrian-European cooperation and making the summit a success," Dakhlallah told.
At issue is a U.N. report that listed insufficient Syrian cooperation with the world body's investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
On Monday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country now holds the European Union's rotating presidency, did not directly answer a reporter's question when asked if Assad had been invited to the summit. Straw responded instead that Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa was "being invited in the normal way to the Euro-Med meeting."
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that the EU foreign ministers reiterated demands "that Syria cooperates with the (U.N.) inquiry," into Hariri's death. "Syria has to take this demand seriously," Douste-Blazy told reporters, adding the 25-nation bloc "will judge Syria on its actions."
A Syrian Foreign Ministry official also said that Assad, in a letter sent to Blair through the British ambassador in Damascus, included an apology for his decision not to attend the summit. Assad cited "current circumstances in the region."
The summit was to draw leaders from across Europe, North Africa and Middle Eastern countries that border the Mediterranean to mark a decade of building closer cooperation.
EU nations have, nevertheless, threatened sanctions against Damascus if it does not cooperate with the U.N. probe into Hariri's killing, the AP reports.