EU for­eign min­is­ters still di­vided on Syria strat­egy

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— 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 Syria’s 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.

“Let’s 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 yes­ter­day’s 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”. —

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