Austria to keep EU's Syria arms embargo

Without an accord, all EU measures against Syria, including asset freezes and travel bans, expire on June 1.

Austria to keep EU's Syria arms embargo

World Bulletin/News Desk

Austria will resist British-led efforts to lift or dilute a European Union arms embargo on Syrian rebels, Chancellor Werner Faymann said on Tuesday, arguing that more weapons would only fan the fighting and may snuff out chances for peace talks.

The EU has to decide this month whether to renew or amend its sanctions on Syria, where more than 70,000 people have died in a two-year uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Member states are divided on whether to change the arms ban, which would require the support of all 27 members. Without an accord, all EU measures against Syria, including asset freezes and travel bans, expire on June 1.

Western countries, including the United States, Britain and France, support the rebels fighting against Assad with non-lethal aid although they have yet to provide weapons. A British proposal backed by France would amend the EU embargo to allow arms for the rebels.

This has been opposed by Austria, which fears for the safety of its 375 soldiers working as peacekeepers in a 1,000-strong U.N. international force on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"We are against this in principle," Faymann told reporters after a cabinet meeting. "In areas like the Middle East and Syria there can be absolutely no relieving or resolving the situation by delivering yet more weapons."

He said he would make the point at an EU summit next week.

"We will defend this clear position of Austria - even if we are the only ones - that we are not of the opinion that the arms ban in Syria should be lifted."

Asked if Austria could support a compromise in which only certain rebel groups could get a limited arsenal, Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said: "We are against more weapons in Syria. There are already enough there, we don't need more."

In a paper circulated to EU peers before foreign ministers meet on May 27 and seen by Reuters, Austria argued that lifting the embargo could torpedo a U.S.-Russian initiative for a peace conference. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday the conference could be held in early June.

One French official said lifting the embargo could help persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to drop Moscow's diplomatic protection for Assad.

"Just giving him hugs is not going to make him change his mind. There has to be a change in the balance of power and that means a stronger opposition and the threat of arming the rebels," the French official said.

He also played down concerns that arms would end up in the hands of rebels out of the control of the main opposition block.

"We learnt our lessons from Libya. You aren't going to see random air drops," he said, adding that months of cultivating ties with the Syrian rebels had given Western countries more confidence they could steer arms only to selected fighters.

"No decision has been taken to give weapons. There is no legal basis for now anyway. Once the embargo is lifted or eased then we will have some leverage and then we will think about it," the French official said.

Last Mod: 14 Mayıs 2013, 15:21
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