Europe divided over lifting Syria arms embargo

PTI Brussels | Updated on March 12, 2018

The European Union stood divided today on whether to lift an embargo on supplying arms to Syria’s opposition despite a strong push from Britain and France.

Pressed by the two major EU powers to help tip the balance in the conflict by arming the ill-equipped rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, leaders of the 27-nation bloc agreed to discuss the issue again next week, but there was little sign of a deal in the offing.

“We agreed to task our foreign ministers to assess the situation as a matter of priority” at talks in Dublin on March 22 and 23, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said at the close of a two-day summit.

As the bloody conflict entered its third year, London and Paris said there was no sign of Assad relenting on the political front as he continued to receive arms from Russia and elsewhere.

But there was little appetite from some Europeans for arming the rebels, fearful that a flood of weapons into Syria would only escalate the conflict.

“It is unlikely there will be an agreement to lift the arms embargo given very principled opposition from some nations, such as Germany,” Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie think-tank, told AFP.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is traditionally shy of conflict, said “I haven’t made up my mind yet”, but added that “we have a series of reservations because one has to ask whether or not one is fanning the flames of the conflict.”

“It is an extremely difficult situation,” she added after the summit. “It must be considered very very carefully.”

After British Prime Minister David Cameron this week called for an EU arms embargo to be lifted, France’s President Francois Hollande unexpectedly turned the spotlight on the issue on arriving in Brussels, saying: “We want Europeans to lift the arms embargo.”

“Political solutions have now failed,” he said. “We cannot allow a people to be massacred by a regime that for now does not want a political transition,” Hollande said.

Like Britain, France warned it was ready to break ranks with European partners to supply weapons to the rebels. Paris was ready to “take its responsibilities” if other EU nations were unwilling to lift the embargo, Hollande said.

“We are against the end of the arms embargo. We think the delivery of arms does not contribute to a possible solution,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told reporters in Brussels.

An EU diplomat said many countries were likely to fall in quietly behind Germany and refuse to lift the ban.

Published on March 16, 2013

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