Monday

16th Sep 2019

EU considering global summit on Syria crisis

  • Hague at a meeting of the Libya contact group last year, shortly before Nato countries and rebels brought down Gaddafi (Photo: FCO)

UK foreign minister William Hague has said EU countries may convene a global summit on how to bring down Syrian leader Bashar Assad despite a blockage in the UN.

He told MPs in London on Monday (6 February) the UK and France are working to create a so-called Friends of Syria Group - an informal club of countries that will seek ways to make Assad stop military action, hand over power to a national unity government and hold free elections.

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Asked by one deputy if an EU-Arab League summit will take place in the next few days or weeks, he said: "That is indeed one of the possibilities for bringing together a wider group of countries. But I think it would be wise to have a bigger group, as there are many African nations that have been supportive in the UN, and in Latin America as well."

He noted: "I have spoken to [Turkish] foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ... I would expect Turkey to be an active participant in the new international grouping that will be formed."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy first floated the idea of a Syria contact group on Saturday after China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution calling for the Assad hand-over, itself an Arab League idea.

Russia has said that Nato countries are keen to start a war with Assad for their own strategic aims. Meanwhile, the EU and US say Russia is cynically protecting its old ally despite reports of mass-killings.

A diplomat from one EU country said the contact group could - in theory - go as far as arming the Syrian opposition without breaking international law.

"If you take the hypothesis that the [opposition] Syrian National Council is the legitimate government and this council asks for weapons or military advice, then obviously EU member states or the Arab League would be perfectly free to provide that if they were willing to," he said.

"This doesn't undermine the UN. You can do plenty of things [without a UNSC resolution], but, of course, without one you don't have such a strong political mandate," he added.

France already recognised the Syrian council last November.

For her part, Chancellor Angela Merkel at a meeting with Sarkozy in Paris on Monday said she gives him a free hand in terms of German support for the contact group plan.

The German leader used unusually forceful language to condemn Russia, a German ally, which orchestrated the veto with China.

"We were not only disappointed but furious that we were not able to get approval of a UN resolution. And I have to say here, Russia must ask itself if we are really in a historical situation where policy should be made separately from the Arab League. I can't imagine that this will prove to be a big success," she said.

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