BRUSSELS - European Union governments on Friday rejected Franco-British
efforts to lift an EU arms embargo to allow weapons supplies to Syrian
rebels, saying this could spark an arms race and worsen regional
France and Britain found little support for their
proposal at an EU summit in Brussels, diplomats said, but EU foreign
ministers will consider the issue again next week.
President Francois Hollande, backed by British Prime Minister David
Cameron, pressed for the embargo to be lifted, saying Europe could not
allow the Syrian people to be massacred.
Western nations mostly
have stood on the sidelines as 70,000 Syrians have been killed,
according to a UN estimate, during a two-year-old revolt against Syrian
President Bashar Assad.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a
leading opponent of lifting the arms embargo, said there was a danger
that Assad's allies Russia and Iran could step up arms supplies to his
government if the 27-nation EU lifted its restrictions.
because Britain and France now wanted to drop the ban, that didn't mean
25 other states must follow suit, she told a news conference in
Brussels. "That will not be the case."
have, with, in my view, very good reasons ... pointed to the fact that
Iran and also Russia are only waiting for a signal to export arms (and)
that one must also be aware of the fragile situation in Lebanon and what
that means for the arming of Hezbollah," she said.
German officials cite what happened in North Africa where guns smuggled out of Libya helped arm Islamists in Mali.
Council President Herman van Rompuy said leaders had asked their
foreign ministers to look at the arms embargo "as a matter of priority"
at a March 22-23 meeting in Dublin.
Lifting of embargo political chip to pressure Assad
said he had received guarantees from the Syrian opposition that any
arms delivered to them would end up in the right hands.
"I will do everything so that at the end of May at the very latest ... a common solution is adopted by the Union," he said.
insurgents are a disparate array of mostly locally organized units,
only some of which are loyal to the Free Syrian Army, which is loosely
linked to the internationally recognized political opposition, the
Cairo-based Syrian National Coalition.
Others are hardline Sunni
Islamist factions, such as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, which
Washington calls a terrorist group, but which has won prestige for its
French officials say that, for now, Paris
is keener to use the scrapping of the embargo as a bargaining chip to
put political pressure on Assad than to actually supply arms. Britain,
too. has not said it would arm the rebels.
France and Britain
reopened the Syrian issue only days after EU states had hammered out a
hard-fought compromise to relax the embargo to allow non-lethal aid to
the opposition, such as armored vehicles and technical assistance.
French foreign ministry official said any changes to the arms embargo
would be gradual and would likely be implemented only when the current
package of EU sanctions on Syria expires at the end of May.
is not going to take effect immediately. It will probably take a few
weeks to try to agree and probably be effective at the end of May,"
Justin Vaisse said during the General Marshall Fund's annual Brussels
Cameron: We want to work with rebels, make sure they're doing the right thing
Cameron said pressure must be applied to bring about a transition in Syria.
"As things stand today, I am not saying that Britain would actually like to supply arms to rebel groups," he said.
we want to do is work with them and try to make sure that they are
doing the right thing. And with technical assistance we are able to do
The arms ban is part of a package of EU sanctions on Syria
that rolls over every three months. An extension agreed last month
expires on June 1. Without unanimous agreement to renew or amend it, the
embargo lapses, along with the sanctions.
Although an EU
agreement to lift the embargo completely is unlikely, there could be
scope for a compromise, perhaps expanding the aid that EU governments
may give to the rebels.
France and Britain have both suggested they could act alone if no EU-wide agreement can be reached.
countries may want this, but the overwhelming majority don't and to
lift the embargo there's got to be unanimity," one senior EU official
said. "It's not just Germany that has concerns, but Sweden, Spain,
Austria and others too."