Euro nations to discuss lifting Syria arms ban
UK Foreign Secretary Hague (R) meets with the newly formed Syrian opposition bloc at the Foreign Office in London. EPA photo
European nations are discussing whether to overturn an arms embargo on Syria and are seeking to press Arab countries and the United States for a new impetus to end the crisis, Britain’s top diplomat said in London on Nov. 16.
Officials from the U.S., France, Germany, Qatar, Turkey and other nations attended meetings in London with the new opposition group, aimed at determining how better to support opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to stress the need for the opposition fighters to respect human rights.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague met with the head of the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces Mouaz Khatib and two vice presidents in London, but said the U.K. would not yet join Turkey, France and Gulf countries in officially recognizing the opposition group as the representative of Syria’s people.
“I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard and seen from the leaders of the coalition,” he said after meeting the trio at the Foreign Office.
“I wanted to meet them myself before the United Kingdom takes that step. We need their assurances about being inclusive of all communities and we need to see that they have genuine support within Syria,” Hague said. He claimed he had stressed the importance of respecting minority rights, of committing to a democratic future for Syria and of taking a stand against the “abuse, violence and rape” committed by the al-Assad regime.
“We cannot stand still, we cannot just say we will leave things as they are in Syria, because it is a gravely deteriorating situation,” Hague told reporters. “How we respond has to be well judged, well thought-through.” Though Britain has insisted so far that it will not supply weapons to Syria’s rebels, Hague confirmed that its National Security Council had discussed whether a European Union arms embargo could be lifted. The issue is likely to be discussed at a meeting of European foreign ministers Nov. 19.
Since May 2011, the European Union has imposed a ban on the export of weapons and equipment to Syria which could be used for “internal repression.” In July, the 27-nation bloc asked members to stop and inspect any ships or aircraft bound for Syria that they suspect could be carrying arms.
France has already raised the possibility of sending “defensive weapons” to Syria’s rebels though Russia has warned that such a move would violate international law. Hague said Syria “needs a diplomatic and political solution, a military victory of one side over the other would be a long, expensive process in terms of human life.”
Khatib and vice presidents Suheir Atassi and Riad Seif are scheduled to travel to Paris Nov. 17 for talks with French President François Hollande.