France and Germany disagree on arming Syria rebels

12.03.13 @ 09:19

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - France has said the EU should reconsider its ban on giving arms to Syrian rebels, despite German opposition to the move.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told press after meeting his colleagues in Brussels on Monday (11 March) that there is an "imbalance" in the conflict because the Syrian regime is "being supported by heavy weapons coming from Iran and Russia, but the [rebel] National Coalition does not have the same weapons at its disposal."

He added: "This question [on lifting the EU arms embargo] … will have to be asked again very quickly because we cannot tolerate this imbalance, which is resulting in the massacre of the entire population."

The EU just two weeks ago extended the arms ban for another three months, but allowed the provision of "non-lethal equipment and technical assistance for the protection of civilians."

Britain's William Hague on Monday noted that he is "making full use of the amendment" by giving rebels "armoured, four-wheel-drive vehicles and body armour" as well as "training, advice and assistance."

He said that France, Germany and Italy are all "thinking along the same lines" on how to help the opposition.

But Germany the same day struck a different note.

Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said EU countries should send in "goods for infrastructure, medical assistance, electricity, water."

But he added: "I don't think the bloodshed in Syria will decrease should we engage in an arms race."

For his part, the man tasked by the UN and the Arab League to try to mediate in the conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the meeting of EU foreign policy chiefs that Europe should urge Russia to play a more constructive role.

He warned that unless there is "a peaceful, consensual, political solution, [then] the situation will become similar to or even worse than, Somalia."

But he gave no hope of any breakthrough in rebel-regime talks.

"He did not give me an iota of greater optimism," Poland's Radek Sikorski said after listening to the envoy.

"I'm very, very pessimistic. I'm afraid there will be a very long civil war," Belgium's Didier Reynders noted.

The EU ministers the same day further stigmatised the Syrian regime's principal ally, Iran.

They blacklisted seven Iranian jurists and prison chiefs as well as a new Cyber Police Unit in the Revolutionary Guards.

They accused one of the designated men, Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, Iran's chief Internet censor, of having "actively contributed to the death in detention of the blogger Sattar Beheshti in November 2012."

They accused the others of torture and hangings of political prisoners.

They also blacklisted the chief of Iran's English-language propaganda channel, Press TV, Mohammad Sarafaz, and his top editor, Hamid Reza Emadi, for broadcasting prisoners' "forced confessions."