Britain, France, push EU to drop Syria arms ban

LONDON/PARIS Tue Mar 12, 2013 7:03pm EDT

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Riga February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Riga February 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ints Kalnins

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LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - Britain and France raised the pressure on other European Union members on Tuesday to lift a ban on supplying arms to Syria, where anti-government rebels are outgunned by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Britain warned that it could break with the embargo altogether, which requires unanimous agreement by the EU's 27 members to take effect, while France hinted it would push to get the bloc to agree to amend the ban to allow the supply of arms.

The arms embargo is part of a package of EU sanctions on Syria that currently roll over every three months, with the last extension unanimously agreed by the EU last month and which came into effect on March 1.

Without unanimous agreement to either renew or amend the ban in three months' time, the embargo lapses.

"I hope that we can persuade our European partners, if and when a further change becomes necessary, they will agree with us," Cameron told a parliamentary committee when asked whether Britain could "veto" the embargo.

"But if we can't, then it's not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way. It's possible," he added.

Britain has not explicitly said it wants to arm the rebels, but repeatedly has said it does not rule out the option, depending on events on the ground.

In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said "a new balance of power" has to be created in Syria.

"We understand the idea of not adding weapons to weapons, but that position doesn't work in the face of reality it and that (reality) is that the opposition is bombarded by others who are getting weapons while they are not. It's a difficult position to keep," he said.

France and Britain accuse Assad of gambling on a military victory against his opponents, and hope the threat of giving the rebels arms will force him into talks and a transition of power.

After weeks of wrangling last month, Britain pushed for and won EU agreement to relax the embargo to allow non-lethal but quasi-military aid such as body armor and armored vehicles to be supplied to the rebels.

However, Britain and France say more must be done, while Germany has warned that giving the rebels with arms could lead to a proliferation of weapons in the volatile region and spark a proxy war.

Fabius said France would take steps on the embargo issue in the coming days without specifying what would be done.

According a senior French official who spoke on condition of anonymity, anti-aircraft missiles are among those weapons being considered for supply to rebel fighters in Syria.

BOLSTER THE MODERATES

Critics of the plan are alarmed at the growing number of Islamists in the rebel ranks, some affiliated to al Qaeda, and are also concerned about the ability of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group to control fighters on the ground.

Addressing concerns about weapons falling into the wrong hands, a Foreign Office official said Britain was confident of the moderate credentials of those it planned to help.

"We're talking to the opposition constantly about a whole range of support and we know who the people we want to work with are ... It's important to bolster the moderate elements of the opposition. We know who these are," the official told Reuters.

Britain, which has called the crisis in Syria a "catastrophe", has warned that the longer it continues, the more likely it is to attract radical Islamists.

The two-year-old conflict started out as pro-democracy protests, but has since descended into an increasingly sectarian war between rebels mainly from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority and forces loyal to Assad, who follows the Alawite faith derived from Shi'ite Islam.

Some 70,000 people have been killed and more than one million refugees have fled the violence.

(Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (5)
MikeBarnett wrote:
The leaders of Britain and France want to cash in on selling arms to the Syrian civil war to pull their economies out of recession. The US sold to both sides during the early years of World War I. The 1920′s and 1930′s were years when Europeans referred to the US as “Uncle Shylock,” and the US called Europeans “deadbeats.” The UK and France want to bring back the “good old days” with their nations playing different roles this time.

Mar 12, 2013 6:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“Britain, which has called the crisis in Syria a “catastrophe”, has warned that the longer it continues, the more likely it is to attract radical Islamists.”
_______________________________________________________________

Hello ! – Earth to Great Britain. Has everyone at 10 Downing Street fallen asleep at the switch boards or perhaps decided to start their Summer holidays a little early this year ?

Or have they decided it is simply too taxing to keep up with the latest news coming out of the Middle East.

Syria’s rebels have just officially announced that they now vow to ‘liberate the Golan Heights’ after Assad falls. A rather clear sign of just how totally insane and deluded these rebels are.

Syrian rebels operating near the Israeli border criticize the Assad regime for not fighting Israel in recent decades and they threatened on Sunday to fight to regain the Golan Heights from Israel following the toppling of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

A rebel fighter, stated, standing against the backdrop of the Golan Heights, “we are in the occupied Golan Heights, which the traitor Hafez Assad sold to Israel 40 years ago.

“These lands are blessed and the despicable Assad family promised to liberate them, but for 40 years the Syrian army did not fire a single bullet. We will open a military campaign against Israel. We will fire the bullets that Assad did not and we will liberate the Golan.”

Those sound like big fighting words to me although there can be no doubt that Israel will know how to deal with such a challenge should it arise.

The Israel-Syria border has, of course, been mostly quiet since 1974 but that may all be about to change, if Assad falls.

There can be no doubt of the potential and indeed likelihood, for radical Sunni elements to attempt to take power in a post-Assad Syria.

Israel would much prefer not to be dragged into and forced to intervene in what is going on in Syria -unless and except where their vital security interests are threatened.

Meanwhile, the German Der Spiegel magazine reported on Sunday that the United States is secretly providing military training in Jordan to Syrian rebels. According to the report, some 200 rebel fighters have already received training in recent months and there are future plans to train a total of 1,200 members of the Free Syrian Army at two camps in southern and eastern Jordan. The U.S. State Department has declined to comment on the report.

That old deafening silence routine which always tells a great deal.
Ever hear that old saying: “From the frying pan, into the fire”.

The story in Syria is that you can have it bad – or by the US, Great Britain and France, foolishly arming these fanatical “rebels”, you can have it become even more bad, with an upper case “B”.

If- and it will not be a big if, -should the US and the EU get heavily involved in arming the Syrian rebels, it is all but a ‘fait accompli’ that Assad will fall, in a carbon copy replay of what happened in Libya which has now descended into a failed State where brutal War Lords compete for power.

And with the fall of Assad, should the rebels, newly emboldened by their victory, turn their sights on challenging Israel along the Golan Heights, which they now say they plan to do, the entire world better fasten their collective “seat belts” because you will witness a reaction by Israel that will make the entire “rebels versus Assad” saga look like child’s play at the local sand box should other Arab states enter the fray.

Mar 12, 2013 7:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“Britain, which has called the crisis in Syria a “catastrophe”, has warned that the longer it continues, the more likely it is to attract radical Islamists.”
_______________________________________________________________

Hello ! – Earth to Great Britain. Has everyone at 10 Downing Street fallen asleep at the switch boards or perhaps decided to start their Summer holidays a little early this year ?

Or have they decided it is simply too taxing to keep up with the latest news coming out of the Middle East.

Syria’s rebels have just officially announced that they now vow to ‘liberate the Golan Heights’ after Assad falls. A rather clear sign of just how totally insane and deluded these rebels are.

Syrian rebels operating near the Israeli border criticize the Assad regime for not fighting Israel in recent decades and they threatened on Sunday to fight to regain the Golan Heights from Israel following the toppling of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

A rebel fighter, stated, standing against the backdrop of the Golan Heights, “we are in the occupied Golan Heights, which the traitor Hafez Assad sold to Israel 40 years ago.

“These lands are blessed and the despicable Assad family promised to liberate them, but for 40 years the Syrian army did not fire a single bullet. We will open a military campaign against Israel. We will fire the bullets that Assad did not and we will liberate the Golan.”

Those sound like big fighting words to me although there can be no doubt that Israel will know how to deal with such a challenge should it arise.

The Israel-Syria border has, of course, been mostly quiet since 1974 but that may all be about to change, if Assad falls.

There can be no doubt of the potential and indeed likelihood, for radical Sunni elements to attempt to take power in a post-Assad Syria.

Israel would much prefer not to be dragged into and forced to intervene in what is going on in Syria -unless and except where their vital security interests are threatened.

Meanwhile, the German Der Spiegel magazine reported on Sunday that the United States is secretly providing military training in Jordan to Syrian rebels. According to the report, some 200 rebel fighters have already received training in recent months and there are future plans to train a total of 1,200 members of the Free Syrian Army at two camps in southern and eastern Jordan. The U.S. State Department has declined to comment on the report.

That old deafening silence routine which always tells a great deal.
Ever hear that old saying: “From the frying pan, into the fire”.

The story in Syria is that you can have it bad – or by the US, Great Britain and France, foolishly arming these fanatical “rebels”, you can have it become even more bad, with an upper case “B”.

If- and it will not be a big if, -should the US and the EU get heavily involved in arming the Syrian rebels, it is all but a ‘fait accompli’ that Assad will fall, in a carbon copy replay of what happened in Libya which has now descended into a failed State where brutal War Lords compete for power.

And with the fall of Assad, should the rebels, newly emboldened by their victory, turn their sights on challenging Israel along the Golan Heights, which they now say they plan to do, the entire world better fasten their collective “seat belts” because you will witness a reaction by Israel that will make the entire “rebels versus Assad” saga look like child’s play at the local sand box should other Arab states enter the fray.

Mar 12, 2013 7:14pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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