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France pessimistic on Syria vote, EU plans sanctions
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - French foreign minister Alain Juppe said on Saturday he was pessimistic over the chances of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria, after he and other EU foreign ministers discussed further sanctions on Bashar al-Assad's government.
The Security Council is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the Arab Spring uprisings at a high-level meeting that will likely focus on the conflict in Syria.
The United States has drafted a resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on protesters but the proposal faces a possible veto by Russia and China, which have so far shielded Syria from international action.
Some EU foreign ministers have been hoping that the end of the Russian presidential election last week might be an opportunity for a change in Moscow's stance.
"We were hoping that once the elections in Russia were over dialogue with the Russian authorities could be more consensual," Juppe said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Copenhagen.
"But for the moment this hope has not been confirmed ... Russia continues to block it on different points and there is not an agreement on the text of this resolution. I don't know if things will evolve here between now and Monday."
EU governments are struggling to come up with effective means to topple Assad. They oppose military action and are reluctant to take any steps without international consensus.
The main form of EU pressure on Damascus has been sanctions, which include an ban on imports of Syrian crude oil, an arms embargo and the ceasing of financial transactions with the central bank, except for those related to legitimate trade.
On Saturday, EU diplomats said a new round of Syria sanctions could be agreed in Brussels on March 23, at their next formal meeting. They had gathered in Copenhagen for regular informal discussions, known as "Gymnich" after the German town where the first such meeting took place.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said: "We are reviewing the possibility of further ratcheting up sanctions on Syria, yes".
New measures could include a ban on passenger flights and maritime traffic, diplomats said.
Ministers in Copenhagen discussed how to better forge a common EU foreign policy and better prepare for crises such as Syria. Juppe was asked about criticism that Europe had been ineffective in its efforts to persuade Assad to quit power.
"People criticize the Europeans for being ineffectual. But are the Americans more effective than us?" he asked. "This idea that Europe is completely ineffectual, that it doesn't do anything, is put forward by people who do not wish it well."
Addressing the need for Russian and Chinese support for action on Syria, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU had asked Moscow and Beijing to "consider their responsibilities" at the United Nations.
Their support, she said, was needed so that the Security Council could "support a resolution that would move us forward with Syria and recognize what we have recognized a long time ago - that you cannot remain a leader and commit mass murder against your people."
Ashton also reiterated EU calls for more unity among the Syrian opposition. Western diplomats fear tensions among minority groups threaten to stoke conflict in the Middle East and could plunge Syria into chaos if Assad is toppled.
(Additional reporting by Ilona Wissenbach)
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