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Estonian MEP’s visit with Assad not OK’d by European Parliament, criticized by Foreign Affairs Committee chair

Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Sven Mikser (SDE) sharply criticized Toom (Center) for her and two other MEPs’ recent visit to Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, a trip which the European Parliament claims was not officially sanctioned and will not be paid for out of the EP’s budget.

"This is without a doubt unacceptable,” Mikser told ERR’s online news portal. “[Assad] is a person who is accused of very serious war crimes and with whom respectable politicians most certainly do not communicate. Assad absolutely cannot be a part of a long-term solution to the civil war in Syria.”

He continued, “Such a meeting with MEPs sends entirely the wrong message. Regrettably, however, it can be said that that is deliberate. The goal of Yana Toom’s visit was to get some attention. It is hardly likely that meeting with Assad will contribute to any sort of solution.”

Also speaking with ERR’s online news portal, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Vice-Chairman MP Enn Eesmaa (Center) stated that had Toom asked him for advice, he would have advised her not to travel to Syria, but she had not spoken about the visit within the party.

“She has not presented her wish to travel [to Syria] to the Center Party’s Board of Directors, of whom she herself is vice-chairman,” explained Eesmaa. “In that sense, [her trip] has nothing to do with the Center Party; this was her own personal initiative. And as it turns out, it had nothing to do with the European Parliament either.”

Travel expenses footed by Toom, Syrian government; EP refuses to pay

Estonian MEP Yana Toom (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), Spanish MEP Javier Couso Permuy (European United Left) and Latvian MEP Tatjana Ždanoka (Greens-European Free Alliance) met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Sunday; during their trip, they also visited the Lebanese capital of Beirut.

“Plane tickets and three nights in a Beirut hotel were paid for by Yana Toom herself, and she will be applying for compensation in accordance with rules regarding MEPs’ annual additional travel expenses,” Malle Kuuler, Toom’s assistant in the EP, told ERR, adding that the Syrian government paid for one night in a hotel in Damascus, from July 9-10.

The European Parliament, however, has publicly rejected any ties to this visit.

“This is not an official visit from the European Parliament or any of its official bodies, and the expenditures are not being paid by the EP; this trip is entirely on their own responsibility,” Deputy Spokesperson Marjory van den Broeke told BNS on Monday, adding that there was nothing more for the EP to comment on regarding the matter.

Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik

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