EU 'united' on need for Syria political solution

Saturday 23 March 2013 18.44
Catherine Ashton said there was a sense of urgency among EU leaders about need for progress on Syria
Catherine Ashton said there was a sense of urgency among EU leaders about need for progress on Syria

The European Union's Foreign Policy chief has said that there is a real sense of urgency to ensure political progress in Syria.

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton was speaking at the end of a two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers at Dublin Castle, which failed to find a common position on the future of the EU's Syrian arms embargo.

The ban is due to expire in May and Britain and France are keen to look at ways to send arms to those fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The High Representative said the talks had been extremely productive and that the EU was united in the need to find a political solution to end the bloodshed in Syria.

This morning's discussions also focussed on the EU's relationship with other international organisations.

Ministers yesterday reaffirmed a commitment to finding a political solution to the two-year conflict in Syria.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said he was opposed to the proposal to lift the embargo, because adding more weapons would escalate the situation.

France and Britain failed to persuade ministers to back their call to lift the embargo, despite warning that Mr Assad could resort to using chemical weapons.

The two governments believe that exempting Mr Assad's opponents from the embargo would raise pressure on Mr Assad to negotiate to end a civil war that has claimed 70,000 lives.

Mr Assad's supporters and opponents accused each other of using chemical weapons after 26 people were killed in a rocket attack near the northern city of Aleppo this week.

Germany and Austria also said yesterday they remain opposed to lifting the arms embargo for the rebels, as it could lead to weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants, fuel regional conflict and encourage Mr Assad's backers, Iran and Russia, to step up arms supplies to him.

The EU has until 1 June to decide whether to renew or amend its sanctions on Syria and discussions on what to do about the arms embargo will continue in EU working groups.

Changing the arms ban needs the backing of all 27 EU states.

Without agreement, all EU measures against Syria, including asset freezes and travel bans, would collapse on 1 June.

The embargo was previously amended in February to allow non-lethal assistance for the opposition.

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