Monday

18th Dec 2017

US backs EU arms shipments to Syria rebels

  • Syrian rebels have no way to stop Russian-made regime jets from bombing their positions (Photo: a.anis)

The US has endorsed an Anglo-French proposal to let EU countries arm Syrian rebels, but Israel is against the move.

A US state department official told EUobserver in a written note on Friday (24 May) that: "Amending the EU arms embargo on Syria to allow for the provision of lethal assistance to the opposition is ultimately a decision for EU member states."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The contact added: "However … the US strongly supports the easing of the EU arms embargo as part of the international community’s collective efforts to demonstrate its full support for the Syrian opposition and to continue to pressure the regime."

The question will take centre stage at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday.

A British diplomat said London wants to include a new line in the EU sanctions document which says EU states can ship "equipment which protects civilians" to "moderate" opposition forces.

France and Italy also support the move.

Several EU countries - notably Austria, the Czech republic, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden - oppose it for fears that British or French anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons given to the secularist Free Syrian Army might end up in the hands of Islamist groups, such as the Al-Nusra Front.

"Who can guarantee that radical forces, strong enemies of Israel for example, won't receive such modern weapons systems?" a Czech diplomat noted.

In an unusual divergence in Israeli and US policy, an Israeli diplomatic source said Israel would prefer the EU to err on the side of caution.

"We're not in favour of introducing yet more weapons into Syria," the Israeli contact told this website.

Meanwhile, a more neutral group - including Belgium, Denmark and Germany - shares concerns on proliferation but wants to avoid an EU split or seeing the whole sanctions document fall by the wayside.

The sanctions text - which also includes a freeze on Syrian regime assets in EU banks - lapses at midnight on 31 May unless there is an EU consensus on a new version.

A diplomat from one of the neutral countries said his nation will not itself ship weapons, but will not stand in Britain's way either.

Talks are expected to go the wire.

For its part, the European External Action Service (EEAS) is drafting a paper containing three options for ministers to consider: lifting the embargo, keeping the embargo, or a compromise between the two.

The compromise option is the most likely outcome.

But there are plenty of details to scrap over.

A diplomat from one of the pro-arms-export countries said questions include: whether to create a "white list" of which weapons to permit or a "black list" of which ones to forbid; what kind of assurances to seek from rebel authorities; and timing.

The Syrian government has said it is willing to meet with rebel leaders next month at an event organised by the US and Russia in Geneva, dangling the prospect of a political solution.

"Some people say we shouldn't do anything until Geneva. Some say we should stipulate that we will relax the embargo unless the Geneva process achieves this or that," the pro-arms-export diplomat noted.

Another EU source added that if there is an agreement on Monday, it will be accompanied by formal EU Council conclusions.

But there is also division on what to say about Syria in the EU statement.

The text is likely to: back the Geneva process; voice support for the Syrian opposition; urge the UN to mobilise its war crimes court; praise Jordan and Turkey for helping refugees; call for better access for aid workers; and voice worry about use of chemical weapons.

It is also set to condemn violence and human rights abuses.

But pro-arms-export countries want to say that regime forces are guilty of abuse on a greater scale than rebels, while the anti-arms-export states want equally tough language on both sides in the conflict.

"The tragedy is, that there are no good solutions," an EU diplomat said.

Opinion

What is the Free Syrian Army? An inside look

As EU foreign ministers meet in Dublin to discuss arming the Free Syrian Army, Koert Debeuf, an EU parliament official, tells EUobserver who the rebels really are.

Feature

Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees

Lebanon hosts over one million Syrian refugees, and has received some €1bn in EU funds. Caught in a geo-political tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Lebanon's domestic politics have cast a longer shadow over its Syrian 'guests'.

EU complicit in Libyan torture, says Amnesty

The EU and its members states have signed up to 'Faustian pact' with Libyan authorities in the their effort to prevent migrant and refugee boat departures towards Italy, says Amnesty International.

News in Brief

  1. EU-UK Brexit trade deal by January 2021, official says
  2. Bitcoin is 'deadly', Danish central bank warns
  3. EU Commission wants to ban 'legal weed'
  4. France files €10m complaint against Amazon
  5. EU negotiators reach deal on 'circular economy'
  6. Poll: Tight race in Catalonia days before elections
  7. EU: Israel built 8,000 settler homes in six months
  8. China agrees to promote London as centre for yuan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  2. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  3. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  4. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  5. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  6. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  7. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  10. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  11. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  12. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  2. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  3. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  4. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  5. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  7. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  9. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  10. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  11. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  12. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know