February 5, 2012 / 7:45 PM / 8 years ago

France plans new Syria initiatives, mulls more sanctions

PARIS (Reuters) - France plans to bring together all those opposed to developments in Syria in the next few days and is considering new sanctions against Damascus after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution, its foreign minister said Sunday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday France was consulting with Arab and European countries to create a contact group on Syria to find a solution to its crisis.

“The president will take initiatives in the next few days to try to gather everyone who thinks the situation in Syria is completely unacceptable,” Alain Juppe told BFM television. “It’s a scandal what is happening today.”

Paris, in consultation with Western and Arab allies, crafted the U.N. resolution which condemned the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on 11 months of protests and backed an Arab League peace plan that would see Assad give up power.

“We will get together all countries that want to join us to put maximum pressure on Syria,” Juppe said.

“We will first help the Syrian opposition structure itself, strengthen European sanctions against the Syrian regime, raise international pressure and at one point it will realize it’s completely isolated and cannot continue.”

Last year Sarkozy set up a Libya contact group to create a political roadmap backed by international players as part of efforts to oust Muammar Gaddafi, although Western powers have ruled out a Libya-style military intervention in Syria.

The head of the Arab Parliament, a committee of parliamentarians from Arab League states, has called for Arab countries to expel Syria’s ambassadors and sever diplomatic relations over Assad’s crackdown on protests. Tunisia expelled Syria’s ambassador from the North African country Saturday.

Juppe said: “It’s something we will consider with all our partners, but you have to measure the consequences because our ambassador plays a humanitarian role in his contact with the population so we have to consider who it will hurt the most.”

Paris has been prominent in Western efforts to try to force Assad to end a crackdown on protests and has suggested a need to set up zones to protect civilians, the first proposal by a Western power for outside intervention on the ground.

Speaking earlier on French radio station RTL, Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said he believed Russia was increasingly isolated and would eventually see sense.

“The situation on Syria is absolutely tragic and we feel that we are in a de facto civil war,” Longuet said. “We Europeans, through France’s proposals, have a duty to show that we will not accept this regime. Russia can hold out 15 days, two months, but not indefinitely.”

Reporting By John Irish; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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