EU examining whether to lift Syria arms embargo

European Union foreign ministers discussed Wednesday whether to lift an arms embargo on Syria, in order help the opposition and are expected to take a decision in mid-February.


Speaking at the close of talks between the ministers, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc would "examine the system we have in place" ahead of their next February 18 meeting "to understand what we can do and can't do."


The February talks come days before the EU must decide before a March 1 deadline whether to maintain or lift a wide series of sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, that includes an arms embargo.


Britain and France, backed by Italy, are keen to help beef up the Syrian opposition's fighting strength and have suggested, for instance, removing defensive or non-lethal weapons from items listed for embargo.


But EU sources said there was considerable opposition, notably from some of the Scandinavian countries, to such a move.


Asked to comment, Ashton said there were "a lot of different voices."


She said that before the February 18 talks the ministers would need "absolute clarity" about what was and was not allowed under EU rules and what the opposition actually wanted.


Sources said there were also questions on how to define "non-lethal" items, including the likes of helmets or protective clothing. And who would be supplied.


The EU has imposed 19 rounds of sanctions against the Damascus regime since the eruption of anti-Assad revolts in March last year, including a wide range of trade and financial measures as well as an arms embargo.


And 54 companies and 181 people, including members of Assad's inner circle, are on an EU blacklist, subjected to an assets freeze and travel ban.

The ministers would need absolute clarity about what was and was not allowed under EU rules and what the opposition actually wanted.