EUROPEAN UNION TO LIFT ARMS EMBARGO ON SYRIAN OPPOSITION

Fox News on May 28, 2013, published an AP report on The European Union saying its member states within days will be able to send weapons to help Syria’s outgunned rebels, seeking to pressure President Bashar Assad’s regime ahead of planned peace talks mediated by the United States and Russia. Excerpts below:

Though no EU country has any such plans now to send arms, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the decision “sends a very strong message from Europe to the Assad regime.” He spoke after an all-day meeting of foreign ministers Monday that laid bare EU hesitation on feeding arms in a foreign conflict only months after the 27-member bloc won the Nobel Peace Prize.

But in a bid to force Syria to participate in good faith at the prospective “Geneva II” talks next month, the meeting in Brussels dangled the option of sending in weapons and military equipment soon, when the current sanctions regime ends.

The prospect of EU weapons for the rebels, while maintaining stiff economic sanctions against Assad’s regime, also sends a message to Russia. Moscow has unabashedly sent weapons to Assad’s regime — and EU arms deliveries could partially re-balance the civil war when it comes to firepower.

Several EU ministers said arming the opposition would create a more level playing field that could force Assad into a negotiated settlement.

Britain and France — the EU’s biggest military powers — had been pushing the bloc to lift its embargo on delivery of weapons into Syria to help the embattled opposition.

EU countries will individually examine their export license applications one by one and will not proceed “at this stage” with deliveries of military equipment, the joint declaration said, though it did not specify when that might change.

EU ministers agreed to revisit the issue before Aug. 1, but countries, based on previous EU guidelines, can now decide for themselves whether they want to arm the rebels.

The EU nations also agreed everything possible should be done to control any exports and make sure they do not fall into the hands of extremists or terrorists — one of the thorniest issues for France and Britain in their calls to arm the rebels.

Each country will require “adequate safeguards against misuse of authorizations (for export) granted,” the EU text said.

Hague said Britain would only send in weapons “in company with other nations, in carefully controlled circumstances, and in compliance with international law.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius left the talks earlier Monday to return to Paris to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who are leading the effort to bring the two warring Syrian sides to the negotiating table.

US Senator McCain meanwhile met with anti-government fighters in Syria. The fierce critic of Obama administration policy in Syria has stopped short of backing U.S. ground troops there.

France added urgency to the EU arms debate, with Fabius pointing to increasing signs that chemical weapons were being used in the conflict.

The EU nations have been steadfast opponents of Assad in the war and have steadily increased restrictive measures against his regime, including visa restrictions and economic sanctions. All those measures had been set to expire on May 31, but nearly all of the sanctions, including restrictions on exports and imports, visas, and funding for some Syrian companies, were extended for a year.

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