BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain is pushing the European Union to hold frequent reviews of its arms embargo on Syria to make it easier in the future to arm rebels fighting to depose President Bashar al-Assad, diplomats said on Tuesday.
The proposal, which is said to have been driven by Prime Minister David Cameron, marks a hardening of Britain’s position and shows how the formation of a united Syrian opposition has galvanised overseas support for the rebels.
EU sanctions on Syria include visa bans and asset freezes on individuals and businesses connected to Assad’s government, a ban on oil imports from Syria, and an embargo on the supply of arms to the country, imposed to prevent the flow of weapons to Assad’s forces.
Under EU rules, the Syria sanctions package has to be extended for a year by December 1. Britain, however, has proposed to review the arms embargo segment of the restrictions every three months and has received French backing.
EU diplomats debated the proposal on Tuesday and were expected to continue discussion on Wednesday.
However, many capitals expressed their reluctance about the proposal, the diplomats said.
“It would be an opportunity to arm the opposition,” said one of the diplomats. “It’s additional pressure on the regime.”
At present such arming would cover only non-lethal weapons, such as armour, and training, the diplomat said.
France was the first EU country to recognise the new opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, after its formation on November 11. On November 15, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius suggested lifting the arms embargo to allow the supply of arms to rebels.
The French stance was considered premature by other EU foreign ministers when they last met in Brussels, on November 19. The European Union declared then that it considered the coalition to be “legitimate representatives” of the Syrian people, but stopped short of full recognition.
But the following day, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced formal recognition of the group.
Reporting by Sebastian Moffett and Justyna Pawlak; editing by Robert Woodward