Toom's meeting with Assad should be welcomed, not censored - Center Party secy gen

Oudekki Loone

PHOTO: Jaanus Lensment

Free Party chairman Andres Herkel's critical response to MEP Yana Toom's meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a populist overreaction and opening of discussion in that region should be welcomed, not condemned, says Oudekki Loone, secretary general of Estonia's Center Party of which Toom is a member.

Loone, a member of the parliamentary European Union Affairs Committee, told BNS that the Syrian situation requires discussion and diplomacy, and Herkel's comment on a group of European parliamentarians' visit to Syria was «a populist overreaction.»

The Free Party leader asked in a statement distributed to the media whether Toom was at European Parliament elections «really given a mandate to make friends with the murderer Assad» and called on the Center Party to take a position on the meeting. «The meeting of Toom and two more extreme leftist European parliamentarians with Bashar al-Assad was inappropriate and they certainly represented themselves at it, not the European Parliament or Estonian, Latvian or Spanish voters,» he said. In his opinion, the European parliamentarians' meeting with Assad was also an attempt to help Russian President Vladimir Putin to whitewash the criminal Syrian leader.

Loone voiced regret that Herkel «is trying to earn populist points on such an issue.»

«It is in everyone's interest for the people to do the talking instead of guns in conflict zones of the world. I've personally been on a number of international missions to countries with very complicated situations as an election observer and I've seen the situation of ordinary citizens. It was precisely the situation of ordinary citizens of Syria to which the European parliamentarians' visit drew attention. When MEP Yana Toom says that the situation in Syria could be improved by opening discussion, that there could be readiness for compromise, this should be welcomed not condemned,» Loone said.

She underscored that politicians from Europe, the United States and Russia have had meetings with the Syrian president. «The goal of all meetings is to find ways to resolve the Syrian conflict so civilians would not have to suffer any more. It's diplomacy and negotiations that could help to alleviate the situation there.»

«I find very sympathetic Toom's idea that the Syrian government be allowed to use frozen funds or oil export revenue for social expenditure under strict controls,» Loone said, «and I would like to reiterate that, in order to solve the situation, meetings, negotiations and diplomacy are required. But talks should be held with all parties.»