We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle speaks to reporters outside today's summit. Council of the European Union

EU's foreign ministers still can't decide whether to arm Syria's rebels

A summit of foreign ministers struggled to reach a compromise on whether to extend an arms embargo after this week.

THE EU’S foreign ministers have struggled to reach a compromise in a long-running row over whether to arm Syria’s rebels when an embargo expires at the end of this week.

“There is a strong spirit of trying to find a European solution,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton as ministers went into talks deeply divided over the issue.

But as the meeting continued hours later, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius regretted that there was still “no agreement” – though “it is very important that Europe take a united stand on this affair.”

After Germany’s Guido Westerwelle warned that a deal might not be agreed today, EU diplomats said further talks could be called by the end of the week.

At stake is a wide-ranging package of EU sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, including a blanket arms embargo on Syria that will lapse at midnight on Friday – that is, unless all 27 nations agree to extend the embargo.

Fabius said France favoured one of three compromise options set out by Ashton’s office – under which the EU would agree to supply arms to Syria’s main opposition National Coalition, but only under certain conditions and according to a timeframe linked to political negotiations.

If agreed by all EU nations, this would “encourage European consensus, enable resistance fighters to obtain the arms they need, and control those arms,” he added.

Fabius also warned there were “mounting suspicions” that chemical weapons were being used in Syria. “We are consulting with our partners to examine what concrete consequences to draw,” he added.

Fabius was to meet with his Russian and US counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry, in Paris this evening. Those talks were part of efforts to arrange a Syrian peace conference in Geneva next month.

“I definitely support the lifting of the arms embargo against the Syrian people,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, who was in Brussels for talks.

In Istanbul, Syria’s opposition coalition also urged EU foreign ministers to lift the embargo. “It’s the moment of truth that we’ve been waiting for for months,” said spokesman Khaled al-Saleh.

Britain and France want to to arm the rebels

Britain and France, with some support from Italy and Spain, want the embargo lifted so that the military balance on the ground can swing in favour of the rebels.

This, they hope, will force Assad to agree a political deal, ending the two-year-old conflict that has reportedly claimed over 94,000 lives.

“It’s important to show that we are prepared to amend our arms embargo so that the Assad regime gets a clear signal that it has to negotiate seriously,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The 27-nation bloc has split in three over the Syria sanctions: one group who favour lifting the embargo to arm the opposition, a second group who oppose the idea, and a larger third group which is more concerned with maintaining EU unity – even though some are very reluctant to ship arms to Syria.

Austria, Finland, the Czech Republic and Sweden fiercely oppose sending more weapons into an already bloody conflict and fear they might end up in the wrong hands.

Austria’s Michael Spindelegger, outspokenly critical in the last weeks of Britain and France, suggested “maybe a compromise just to see what comes out of the Geneva conference”.

There is a linkage to the Geneva conference in a possible compromise that suggests supplying arms to the rebels but only with a host of conditions and safeguards.

A document obtained by AFP says this option if agreed would renew sanctions against the Assad regime — including asset freezes against his family and cronies — for another year, but agree on principle to provide weapons to the National Coalition.

But the actual delivery of arms would be postponed until a fresh political decision by all EU members is taken by August 1 “in light of the developments related to the US-Russia initiative.”

The supply of weapons would be subject to strict safeguards and conditions, notably regarding the end-users, with possibly a list of authorised material.

“Quite a lot of arms are already going to the wrong hands,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans. “The parties to the conflict don’t have a shortage of arms, frankly.”

- © AFP, 2013

Read: US, French and Russian ministers to meet for Syria talks

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.