Syrian finance chief: Asia key to bypass sanctions

September 7, 2011 - 5:40 AM

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad will seek to expand trade ties with markets in Asia and elsewhere to bypass European economic sanctions, Syria's finance minister said Wednesday at a meeting of Arab finance chiefs.

Mohammad Jleilati did not name specific countries for stronger economic bonds, but listed Russia, China and others in Asia as traditionally "friendly" to Syria.

Assad's government is under increasing political and economic pressure after months of relentless attacks on protests. The U.N. says more than 2,200 people have died in nearly six months of unrest.

France's foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, said Tuesday in Paris that tighter economic sanctions could be coming from the European Union — a critical market for Syrian oil and goods. The EU already has imposed several rounds of sanctions, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil.

Jleilati told reporters that economic growth in Syria has slumped to below 2 percent.

The gathering of finance minister and other economic envoys in Abu Dhabi also is expected to include talks on additional aid to Libya after the collapse of Moammar Gadhafi's regime. The United Arab Emirates has been a leading Arab supporter of Libya's former rebels. Also on hand were international financial groups such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Another goal of the meeting is to seek long-term strategies to tackle unemployment and economic stagnation, which has fueled the Arab uprisings this year. The wealthy Gulf states are poised to sharply boost investment in Libya after allocating huge amounts at home to create jobs and offer generous handouts to quell possible dissent.

The latest spending boost came from energy-rich Qatar, which announced wide-ranging salary increases Tuesday that include raises of 60 percent for civil servants and 120 percent for military officers.