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West aims to build up pressure on Assad ahead of peace conference


08:27, May 29, 2013

DAMASCUS, May 28 (Xinhua) -- The recent European Union (EU) move to lift an arms embargo on Syria's armed opposition aims to build up pressure on the Syrian administration of President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a planned international conference designed to bridge the gap between the government and the Syrian opposition with a political solution for the 26-month-old bloody stalemate, analysts said.

The EU decided Monday to lift the arms embargo on Syria's opposition after France and Britain threw all their weight behind the ban-lift during marathon negotiations in Brussels amid reports that 25 of 27 EU governments opposed the Anglo-French policy.

William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, defended the move as "necessary and right" to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution in Syria and threatened to use this wild card against Assad if he refuses to "negotiate seriously."

"Tonight EU nations agreed to bring the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition to an end. This was the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted. It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria," Hague said Monday evening.

He said lifting the ban was important to send a clear signal to Assad administration that "it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so. Tonight EU nations have done just that."

Noting that his government hasn't yet started sending weapons to the rebels, Hague said after the ban-lift decision that "this does not mean that we have made any decision as the United Kingdom plans to send arms to the (opposition main oppositional group) National Coalition, but we now have the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and if the Assad regime refuses to negotiate."

According to an EU statement, at the beginning of August, the EU Foreign Affairs Council will adopt for a period of 12 months restrictive measures which include "export and import restrictions with the exception of arms and related material and equipment which might be used for internal repression."

To avoid the arms flowing to the Assad administration, the EU insisted that the sale, supply, transfer or export of military equipment or of equipment which might be used for internal repression "will be for the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces and intended for the protection of civilians."

Maher Morheg, head of Syria's Youth Party, told Xinhua Tuesday that the EU was trying to build up pressure against the Syrian administration, charging that weapons are already being sent to the armed opposition on ground and legitimizing it means more pressure on the Assad administration.

He, however, noted that the EU decision wouldn't affect the planned conference in Geneva planned to convene next month " because both Russia and the United States are supporting it."

Weam Wahhab, a Lebanese political expert, told local media that the "Europeans have lifted the embargo in order to give hope to the terrorists to carry on with fighting and confrontations especially after the recent huge victories of the Syrian army."

For its side, the Syrian Foreign Ministry unleashed a barrage of criticism against the EU, slamming its latest decision as " undermining all international efforts to solve the Syrian crisis politically."

"While keeping the economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian people, the EU allowed some of its members to render weapons to the terrorists in Syria contrary to what they claim about their concern over the interests of the Syrian people," the ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run SANA news agency.

Singling out Britain and France for criticism, the ministry said the decision revealed those country's "political hypocrisy."

Even Moscow, Syria's main ally, stressed that the EU decision will negatively affect the international conference on Syria.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday that the decision opposes the policies of the EU itself and does not help reaching a political settlement, highlighting that "this decision violates the international agreement on weapons trade."

Ryabkov added that it is not acceptable to seek an end of violence in Syria while at the same time escalating the issue of weapons flowing to the country.

Getting on the West's nerve, Ryabkov hinted that in response of EU's arms embargo lift, Russia will also give weapons to the Syrian government.

He said that no one can blame Russia for sending weapons to Syria, adding that these weapons are bound to the legal authorities in the country.

Ryabkov said that sending Russian S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Syria constitutes "a stability factor" and prevents foreign forces from interfering in the country, adding that the shipment is being carried out according to a contract that was signed between Syria and Russia five years ago.

While the pressures are intensified before the planned conference on Syria, Ryabkov said that the basic issue that hinders the international conference on Syria is the fragmentation of the Syrian opposition and its inability to dispatch highly- ranked representatives to the conference.

His remarks came as the exiled opposition groups have been convening over the past week to expand their ranks and elect a delegation to the international conference on Syria for no avail.

Earlier this month, the United States and Russia agreed to reactivate the Geneva Declaration agreed upon last year in a fresh push to seek a solution to Syria's protracted crisis, and hold an international conference with the presence of representatives of both the Syrian administration and the opposition.

The conference is expected to discuss the recent American- Russian efforts to revive political options for resolving the Syrian crisis, with the focus on coordinating efforts in light of the latest developments in Syria.

Last week, President Assad welcomed the new agreement between Moscow and Washington in finding a political solution to resolve the Syrian conflict, but he cast doubt over the Western countries' real intentions.

"We have welcomed the Russian-American rapprochement and we hope that there would be an international meeting to help the Syrians to overcome this crisis," Assad said in an interview with the official Argentine news agency whose contents were carried by SANA.

Assad also expressed some skepticism regarding the Western powers' real intentions, saying that "we don't think that much of the Western countries really want a solution in Syria."

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