DAMASCUS, Syria, March 16 (UPI) -- The European community can play an independent role in the broader Middle East to help calm regional conflicts, the Syrian president said.
Syrian President Bashar Assad welcomed a delegation from the Parliament of the European Union to discuss the situation in Palestine, specifically in the Gaza Strip, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reports.
Assad called for an independent European role in the Middle East in order to provide transparent progress toward understanding the needs of the people in the region.
The EU parliamentary visit comes as Damascus makes an effort to develop stronger regional relations. It had opened its first embassy in Lebanon in October. Lebanon responded Monday by opening an embassy in Syria.
Assad also met Monday with Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa to discuss regional efforts.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the Syrian economy, despite its relative isolation, is feeling the effects of the global economic recession.
The report cited finance officials who said during the weekend that 2009 would be a "difficult" year for the Syrian economy following years of drought and stagnating oil prices.