MIDDLE EAST

UK and France say can arm Syria rebels now but no immediate plans

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague arrives at an European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels May 27, 2013. (Reuters)

Britain and France said on Tuesday they did not have to wait until August 1 to arm rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, contradicting European Union officials, but both countries stressed they had no plans to do so yet.

EU governments failed to renew an EU arms embargo on Monday due to differences in opinion, opening the way for Britain and France to supply weapons. But EU officials said the two countries had made a commitment not to do so before Aug. 1.

“I must correct one thing of concern. I know there has beensome discussion of some sort of [an] August deadline. That is not the case," Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC radio, adding that Britain wasn’t “excluded” from acting before then, but that it would not act alone if it chose to do so.

“We have said we have made our own commitments that at this stage, as we work for the Geneva conference, we are not taking any decision to send any arms to anyone,” he also said

When French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot was asked on Tuesday whether France could also deliver weapons before Aug. 1, he simply said: “Yes.”

“Our objective first is to reach a political solution,” he said, referring to a planned Geneva peace conference next month.

Britain and France argue that keeping the option of arming the rebels open puts pressure on Assad to negotiate a transition of power at the conference, but critics say the Franco-British approach risks inflaming an already volatile situation.

The European Union has decided on Monday to lift the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition while maintaining all other sanctions against Bashar Assad’s regime after June 1.

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Last Update: Tuesday, 28 May 2013 KSA 17:50 - GMT 14:50
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