EU ministers to discuss Syria crisis amid diplomatic impasse

Boris Johnson appears to rule out notion of no-bombing zone over Aleppo

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson and US secretary of state John Kerry give a joint press conference after a meeting on Syria in London on Sunday. Photograph:  Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson and US secretary of state John Kerry give a joint press conference after a meeting on Syria in London on Sunday. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

 

EU foreign ministers gather in Luxembourg on Monday for a meeting that is likely to be dominated by Syria, as diplomatic efforts over the weekend to end the crisis in Aleppo failed to generate any concrete results.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan will join his EU counterparts to consider the latest response to the continuing humanitarian crisis in the northern Syrian city, including the possibility of imposing new EU sanctions on Russia.

Speaking after hosting talks with US secretary of state John Kerry and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson appeared to rule out military action. He said options such as a no-fly zone or no-bombing zone over Aleppo were “extremely difficult”. Instead, Britain and America must work with the “diplomatic tools” they have, he said.

Just weeks after the breakdown of a ceasefire brokered by US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, the two men met in Lausanne, Switzerland for talks on Saturday. But that meeting also ended without any fresh proposals.

Worsening relations

It is understood that US president Barack Obama is unwilling to pledge ground troops to the area, and is instead focusing on a forthcoming offensive against Islamic State in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Speaking after Saturday’s meeting, which was also attended by the foreign ministers of seven countries in the region including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq, the Russian foreign ministry repeated its insistence that a ceasefire could only take place if moderate opposition groups separate from terrorist groups such as Jabhat Fatah al Sham, the al-Qaeda offshoot previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front.

With EU leaders due to consider Europe’s relationship with Russia at a two-day summit later this week in Brussels, there have been calls for the EU to impose fresh sanctions on Russia over its actions in Aleppo.

But officials now believe that an announcement on new sanctions against Syrian individuals is a more likely outcome.

Sanctions questioned

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Speaking ahead of Monday’s meeting, Mr Flanagan said that Russia’s support for the Assad regime is unacceptable.

“The citizens of Syria, and in particular, those in Aleppo are enduring the most appalling suffering as result of the horrific attacks on the city. It is essential is that the EU uses its influence to engage urgently with Russia and Iran – we have to be clear that their support for the Assad regime and their participation in the regime’s actions are totally unacceptable.”

Mr Flanagan called for the immediate resumption of the ceasefire, and for humanitarian access to be restored in Aleppo and across Syria.

Yemen crisis

An air strike which killed 140 people attending a funeral in the Yemeni capital Sanaa last week, according to UN estimates, has ignited strong criticism of the Saudi-led campaign in the country.