Sunday

24th Jul 2016

UK and France: only weapons will make al-Assad talk

  • FSA fighters counting bullets - rebels currently use what they can capture or buy on the black market (Photo: a.anis)

Britain and France have said the only way to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to talk is to threaten him with arming rebels.

The foreign ministers of the EU's top military powers - William Hague and Laurent Fabius - made their case in a joint letter, seen by EUobserver, sent to EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton on 21 March.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

They said the EU should exempt the National Coalition, an opposition umbrella group, from its arms embargo on Syria when the ban is reviewed in May.

They underlined that they want peace talks.

But they noted "the regime has yet to show readiness to engage in a genuine transition process or in meaningful political dialogue."

They added: "It is only by increasing the pressure on the regime that we can help bring them to the negotiating table and keep open the prospect of a political solution. This decision is not - and this is the key - an alternative to a political resolution, it is an essential enabler."

They warned that the status quo will see more killing and more escalation.

They said "there is a cruel imbalance between the forces in the field, causing ever more civilian casualties" and that "the opposition needs to be able to protect the areas it controls."

They noted that jihadists are flocking to Syria, that refugees are causing instability in neighbouring countries and that they "are increasingly concerned about the regime's willingness to use chemical weapons."

The Anglo-French appeal did little to end EU divisions at foreign ministers' talks in Dublin on Friday (22 March).

Speaking after the event, Ashton said: "If you were in the room, you would have heard many, many contributions about what we can do."

Some countries openly disagreed with Britain and France.

Germany's Guido Westerwelle said he is "still reluctant on delivery of offensive weapons." Eamonn Gilmore of Ireland, the EU presidency, noted "the more guns that get into Syria … the more casualties there will be."

Britain and France previously threatened to veto the renewal of the Syria sanctions if they do not get their way.

But if it comes to that, it would cause a major mess.

The EU sanctions package also covers visa bans, asset freezes and a ban on Syrian oil imports.

If it goes in the bin, member states would have to create 27 national-level measures on how to control arms transfers and how to stop al-Assad's people from travelling, using their money and selling oil.

The nay-sayers' main concern is that Western weapons might end up in the hands of extremists.

The Anglo-French letter described the National Coalition, which embraces the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main rebel fighting force, as "genuine[ly] moderate and democratic."

The Liberal group in the European Parliament recently brought the FSA's commander in chief, Salim Idriss, to Brussels to talk to MEPs and diplomats.

Ashton on Saturday said only that she and Idriss "discussed the kind of support that he needed."

But for his part, Liberal leader and former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt, one of whose advisors in February spent several days with the FSA in Syria, believes Idriss is the right man for the EU to back.

"We are stronger as a Union if we act together. But a Union of indecision is an invitation for member states to act alone," he said after the Dublin talks.

MEPs fear further 'Putinisation' of Turkey

MEPs criticised the harsh crackdown in Turkey after last week's failed coup, and warned that Ankara must not go down the road towards an authoritarian regime, in an extraordinary meeting of the EP's foreign affairs committee.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Belgrade Security ForumMigration, Security and Solidarity within Global Disorder: Academic Event Agenda for 2016
  2. GoogleHow Google Fights Piracy: Creating Value While Fighting Piracy
  3. EJC"My Visit to Israel" - Opinion by MEP Lopez Aguilar, Chair of the EP Working Group on Antisemitism
  4. World VisionChildren Migrating, Out of School and at Work as Hunger Deepens in Southern Africa
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStand-Up (and Exercise) to Prevent Chronic Diseases
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersLaunches a Real-time News Hub Specialised in EU Stakeholders
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for International Probe Into Turkey Coup Allegations
  8. GoogleEU-US Privacy Shield: Restoring Faith in Data Flows and Transatlantic Relations
  9. World VisionWorld Leaders & Youth Advocates Launch Partnership to End Violence Vs. Children
  10. Counter BalanceReport: Institutionalised Corruption in Romania's Third Largest Company
  11. Access NowEuropol Supports Encryption. We Can Relax Now… Right?
  12. GoogleLearn about Google's projects across Europe on Twitter @GoogleBrussels

Latest News

  1. Munich attack might not have been terrorism
  2. A very British (and Corbynite) coup
  3. Poland 'changing for the worse' for Muslims and refugees
  4. EU aims to lift visas on Turks despite purge
  5. ECB in ‘bail-out’ of scandal-tainted VW
  6. EU failed to learn lesson from Brexit, Poland says
  7. UK accord on EU workers 'crucial', France says
  8. EU and US take different lines on Turkey crackdown