EU ministers set to beef up Syria arms embargo, sanctions
By Honor Mahony
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels Monday (23 July) are expected to extend sanctions on Syria while trying to clamp down on weapons making their way to the Bashar Assad government.
A couple of dozen people and entities are expected to be added to an EU-sanctions list already containing 43 companies and 128 people.
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The move is in part to show the EU's determination to press ahead with being tough on Damascus even after China and Russia on Thursday (19 July) refused to endorse global sanctions through a UN resolution.
But EU officials also believe the sanctions are having an effect.
"Our analysis and reporting from sources in Syria suggest that this causes significant anxiety and concern to the Syrian regime. This is not something they are blasé about, they really don't like these measures," said one EU diplomat.
"It can't be categorically proven but it seems to make the functioning of the government more difficult," the diplomat added.
The freezing of assets is also thought to hit the standing of the regime among its supporters used to the government's largesse and unhappy at seeing it dwindling.
EU ministers will also try to strengthen its arms embargo against the war-torn nation. A ban on arms exports has been in place since May 2011 but member states at the time did not agree the tools to enforce it.
They are set to remedy this by agreeing to examine ships and aircraft carrying suspicious-looking cargo to Syria.
"It's important to be clear about what we are aiming to do. We are looking to reduce the ease by which arms can go to Syria" said the EU diplomat.
The porous arms embargo came to attention early in the year when a Russia ship carrying arms docked in Cyprus to refuel. The ship was allowed to leave again after its Russian owners said it would no longer be going to Syria.
But events are moving quickly on the ground, so much may be changed by Monday. The killing of the defence minister in a suicide attack on Wednesday is widely seen as big blow to the regime.
There was extra confusion Friday when Russia appeared to exercise some political pressure. Its ambassador to France told Radio France International that Assad is ready to step down "in a civilized way" - the remarked was later dismissed by both Syria and Russia as out of context and incorrectly interpreted.
Ministers are also expected to back a UK-pushed proposal to encourage further reforms in Zimbabwe. They are likely to agree to suspend the current prohibition on aid going directly to the government.
This is hoped to have a strong "signalling effect" as money will not start flowing immediately but only once the EU's new budget framework kicks in from 2014. This can be "rescinded" at any time, said a diplomat.
They are also expected to say that if there is a fair constitutional referendum later this year then there should be a suspension of the asset freeze and travel ban on all but President Robert Mugabe and the core people around him.
Meanwhile ministers may also name the EU special representative on human rights at their Monday meeting. Among the frontrunners for the post are Finland's Astrid Thors, a former MEP and Francois Zimeray, France's ambassador for human rights.