Germany Pledges $5.4 Million to Syria to Help It Cope With Iraq Refugees

Germany's Development Minister visits Damascus, says Berlin supports Syria's bid for partnership accord with EU.

Germany will give Syria $5.4 million to help it cope with an increasing number of Iraqi refugees, Germany's development minister said Tuesday.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul made the announcement after holding talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad at the start of a three-day visit to Syria.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Abdullah Dardari, the Syrian deputy premier for economic affairs, she said that Germany feels the burden Syria is shouldering in hosting more than 1.5 million Iraqis.

Syria has recently started complaining that the international community, the United States and the Iraqi government should help Damascus cope with the influx of Iraqi refugees.

The German minister said that her visit - the first to Syria - adhered to the principle of cooperation, not confrontation as the best way for relations between states. She noted that Berlin supported Syria's bid to sign a partnership agreement with the European Union.

The visit aims at discussing what Germany could offer to help Syria in the economic reform process and increase the effectiveness of energy and provide it with means of renewable energy, Wieczorek-Zeul said.

She added that she will sign a $46 million agreement with the Syrian government to fund projects of water sector reform and a project for a bank for small projects funding.

Syria's official news agency SANA said that Assad's talks with the German minister focused on economic and scientific cooperation between Syria and Germany and the troubled situation in the Middle East.

They discussed the need to establish a just and comprehensive peace in the region, SANA reported.

The German minister said she also discussed with Assad the political crisis in Lebanon and the stalled Mideast peace process.

Earlier Tuesday in Berlin, Wieczorek-Zeul's ministry said her visit meant to underline Berlin's support for Syrian economic reform.

While criticizing Syria, particularly over its role in Lebanon, Germany has sought consistently to draw it into solving the Middle East problems.

"We hope that our cooperation will bring Syria closer to Europe; and that Syria will make a contribution to peace, security and stability in the region," Wieczorek-Zeul said in a statement released by her ministry.