France 'not ready' to arm Syrian rebels
France said today it was not ready to supply weapons to Syrian insurgents fighting to oust president Bashar al-Assad and would be studying the role of an Islamist rebel group branded a terrorist organisation by the United States.
Western powers and Arab nations have recognised Syria's new opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people at talks in Morocco, according to a draft declaration. But feelings about arming the rebels are mixed.
"For now we have decided not to move on this," French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said. "We shall see in the coming months." Many Western powers are reticent about sending weapons because they believe that some rebel groups, notably the al-Nusra Front, have links to al-Qaeda and will seek to impose Islamic law if they succeed in toppling Dr Assad.
Mr Fabius, whose government was the first to recognise the Syrian opposition, welcomed the creation of a military council aimed at helping to coordinate rebel factions' military operations.
But suspicions regarding al-Nusra Front were a "problem" which meant that France and Britain had no intention immediately of reviewing a three-month extension of an arms embargo on Syria, he said.
World powers meeting in Marrakech recognised Syria's new opposition coalition as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people" and called on president Assad to "stand aside", according to a draft declaration obtained today.
The declaration by 130 international representatives comprising the "Friends of Syria" group of nations warned that any use by Dr Assad's government of chemical or biological weapons would be met by a "serious response".
"Participants acknowledge the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organisation under which the Syrian opposition are gathering," said the draft declaration obtained before the meeting of major powers, excluding Russia and China.
"Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow "a sustainable political transition" process," said the text of the draft declaration obtained by Reuters.
US president Barack Obama announced on US television on the eve of the Marrakech talks that Washington would now recognise the newly formed coalition of opposition groups as Syria's legitimate representative, which could intensify the pressure for Dr Assad to relinquish power.
"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Mr Obama said in an interview with ABC News.
However, his announcement stopped short of authorizing the United States to supply weapons to Syria's opposition - something Mr Obama has steadfastly refused to do.