EU foreign ministers still divided on Syria strategy
EU foreign ministers went into talks yesterday sharply divided over lifting an embargo to arm Syrian rebels but seeking a compromise to underpin a Russian-US effort to bring the warring parties to a peace conference.
The EU talks were complicated further as Syrias main opposition group remained split on the prospect of peace negotiations with Damascus despite four days of talks in Istanbul.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said we think it is important that we show we are ready to amend the arms embargo so as to send a message to President Bashar al-Assad that he cannot win.
Hague said changing the arms embargo would support the overall diplomatic effort.
Lets get people to the table and see if their positions have changed, he said.
London and Paris have been pushing their partners to amend an existing arms embargo in order to help tip the military balance in favour of the rebels fighting Assad, but many EU nations are fiercely opposed to sending more weapons into a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.
The ministers however must find a solution before the expiry at midnight Friday of a...
... far-reaching package of EU sanctions against the Assad government, including the blanket arms embargo.
Britain and France want the embargo maintained against Assad but relaxed against the opposition Syrian National Coalition, but a group of nations including Austria, Finland, the Czech Republic and Sweden want no change, or at least none before a proposed peace conference being pushed by Russia and the United States.
Austria s Michael Spindelegger said he had talked to Hague before the meeting to tell him that we have arguments against easing the arms embargo.
If there has to be an amendment, Spindelegger said he hoped to find a compromise to (extend) the arms embargo but still allow time to see what comes out of the mooted second peace conference in Geneva.
Several other ministers made similar remarks as they went into yesterdays meeting, suggesting that a wait-and-see approach was best for the moment.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet his Russian and French counterparts in Paris yesterday, pushing the idea for a Geneva 2 conference aimed at ending the more than two-year conflict, which activists say has killed more than 94,000 people.
With the Syrian opposition deeply divided, Damascus has upped the ante, saying it would attend a new Geneva conference as a good opportunity for a political solution.