EU foreign ministers meet for Syria arms embargo talks | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.05.2013
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EU foreign ministers meet for Syria arms embargo talks

The EU has begun debating an arms ban, which forbids weapons sales to Syria. Some say lifting the ban and arming rebels would equal the balance of firepower in the civil war. Others say it would only harm Syria further.

EU foreign ministers convened in Brussels on Monday to begin highly-anticipated talks aimed at finalizing the 27-member bloc's position on weapons sanctions against Syria. The issue has divided member states who worry about the long-term effects of their decision on security in the region.

"As we begin our meeting, there are still different views," Netherlands Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told reporters ahead of the deliberations.

The Netherlands, along with other countries, including Germany, fear that sending weapons to Syrian opposition forces would increase and, possibly, prolong the violence that has already claimed over 80,000 lives during some 26 months of conflict. The risk of inadvertently arming radical Islamist groups, which support the Syrian opposition, has also stoked worries.

Thus far, EU countries have supplied the Syrian opposition with non-lethal aid as an answer to the grave humanitarian crisis affecting the war-torn country and spilling into neighboring countries.

However, Britain and France are calling the sanctions to be eased in order to give opposition forces the power to protect themselves from the Syrian military, which often deploys its air force and heavy artillery. Additionally, Bashar al-Assad's regime receives weapons shipments from Russia and Iran.

"Most of the world denies them the means to defend themselves, so that is creating extremism radicalizing people. We are reaching the limits of how long we can go on with that situation," Hague said.

"Let's get people to the table and see if their positions have changed," he said.

The foreign ministers must reach a design before the arms embargo expires on Friday.

EU talks arms, US-Russia talk peace

Great Britain's foreign secretary indicated that EU support for the rebels could motivate al-Assad to seek a political solution to end the war.

"It is important to show we are prepared to amend our arms embargo so that the Assad regime gets a clear signal that it has to negotiate seriously," Hague said ahead of the meetings.

The meeting in Brussels comes amid international attempts to bring the Syrian government and opposition representatives to negotiations in Geneva in the coming weeks. Both sides have expressed their willingness to participate, but the question of al-Assad's post-war role continues to hinder talks from taking place.

The Syrian National Coalition insists that the Syrian president must agree to resign as a precondition for negotiations to begin. However, al-Assad has repeatedly rejected similar demands.

US President Barack Obama's administration has been reluctant to send military aid, instead supporting efforts to broker peace talks.

Plans for the Geneva talks, commonly dubbed Geneva 2, were drawn up earlier this month by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. The two foreign secretaries were scheduled to meet in Paris Monday evening.

kms/ccp (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)