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Syria and Iran increase economic cooperation

By Staff
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DAMASCUS, Feb 23 (Reuters) Syria and Iran agreed today to boost economic cooperation as the two countries come under Western pressure, officials said.

The two countries signed a range of agreements on finance, industry, power, textiles and oil at the conclusion of a visit by Iranian First Vice President Parviz Davoudi to Syria, they said.

Syria and Iran risk showdowns with the UN Security Council; Damascus for its alleged role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri last year and Tehran over its nuclear plans.

Officials from both sides discussed building gas and oil pipelines through Iraq to Syria, a project they said will be discussed with Iraq once a new government there is formed.

Syria produces around 400,000 barrels a day of oil but has a shortage of refined fuels.

Iranian investments in Syria have reached 1 billion dollar and are expected to rise to billion within the next three years, according to Syrian official figures.

Syria is taking steps to open up its economy after four decades of central planning under Baath Party rule. The assassination of Hariri has raised the level of uncertainty.

Damascus denied any role in the killing of Hariri and pledged to cooperate with a UN inquiry into the assassination.

Western powers, led by the United States, are still trying to isolate Syria, saying it has not done enough to cooperate with the inquiry.

REUTERS MP RAI2257

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