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EU lifts arms embargo on Syrian rebels

EU lifts arms embargo on Syrian rebels
Highlights

27-member bloc influenced by UK and France However it would not be forced until August 1 This is to facilitate Geneva-II peace meeting Syrian...

  • 27-member bloc influenced by UK and France
  • However it would not be forced until August 1
  • This is to facilitate Geneva-II peace meeting
  • Syrian regime has expressed readiness to attend it
  • Russia flays move, accuses EU of double standards
Brussels (AP): The European Union said its member states, within days, will be able to send weapons to help Syria's outgunned rebels, seeking to pressure from President Bashar Assad's regime ahead of planned peace talks mediated by the United States and Russia. Though no EU country has any such plans now to send arms, British Foreign Secretary William Hague says the decision sends a very strong message from Europe to the Assad regime. He spoke after an all-day meeting of foreign ministers, on 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. "It is extremely important not to do anything to rock the boat. Start delivering weapons now would rock the boat. No one is intending to do that," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said.
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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 as soon as Saturday, when the current sanctions regime ends. 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. A French official in Paris stressed that this was a 'theoretical' lifting of the embargo that would not go into effect until August 1 at the earliest because the EU did not want to hurt the peace talks promoted by Moscow and Washington. Russia said that the European Union's decision to lift its embargo against arming Syrian rebels but not the regime would 'directly harm' the prospects of holding a peace conference on the crisis. "This directly harms the prospects of convening an international conference," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told ITAR-TASS in Moscow. The proposed 'Geneva 2' meeting is expected to happen some time next month after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed, in May, to try and bring the warring sides together at conference. Rayabkov further accused the 27-nation bloc of setting 'double standards' by lifting the embargo against the opposition but not Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's troops. EU countries will individually examine their export licence applications one by one and will not proceed 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 August 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 on Monday to return to Paris to meet US 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. Assad's government has agreed in principle to participate in peace talks in Geneva, but the exact date, agenda and participants still remain unclear. A State Department official also said the department was aware of Sen. John McCain, a proponent of arming Syrian rebels, crossing into Syrian territory on Monday.
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