France warns of unilateral action on Syria
EU must reconsider embargo on arming rebels, says French foreign minister
A Free Syrian Army mortar attached to a car for pulling to the front line, to be used against forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. Photograph: Mohamed Kaddoor/Shaam News Network/Reuters
France and Britain will push for an urgent EU meeting to re-consider the embargo on arming the Syria n opposition. If unanimity cannot be reach, they will act unilaterally, the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday.
Mr Fabius made the comments on France Info radio and in an article published by Libération newspaper to mark the second anniversary of the beginning of the uprising in Syria. “More than 70,000 dead and a million refugees, the systematic destruction of a country: the second anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian revolution is an anniversary of blood and tears,” he wrote.
Mr Fabius said that France and Britain had “identical positions on this question”. The two countries have a pattern of joint Middle East interventions, going back to the 1956 Suez crisis and the 2011 uprising in Libya, when Paris and London took the lead in helping the rebels who brought down Gadafy.
Germany opposes lifting the EU arms embargo on the ground that arming the rebels would lead to a proxy war between Eu rope on the one hand and Russia and Iran, who are providing weapons to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, on the other. The US has shied away from arming the rebels because of the presence of Islamists linked to al-Qaeda among them.
The embargo comes up for renewal on June 1st, but Mr Fabius said France and Britain will ask for the meeting to be brought forward. Asked if that would happen before the end of this month, he said, “Yes. We must act very quickly.”
The British prime minister David Cameron told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that he hoped to persuade Europe an partners to lift the embargo, “but if we can’t then it’s not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way.”
Asked if there could be a unified Franco-British effort to arm the rebels, Mr Fabius replied, “Exactly.”
He said direct intervention in Syria was not possible, but it was time to move to a new stage. “Bashar Assad doesn’t want to budge because he thinks he has permanent superiority in weapons. Lifting the embargo is one of the only ways left to move the situation politically”.