France dials up pressure on US to arm Syrian rebels
France and Britain are pushing the European Union to drop an embargo against arming Syrian rebels. Their push is at odds with with current US policy.
France and Britain announced Thursday that they will seek an emergency lifting of the European Union’s embargo on arming Syria’s rebels – a move that would place new pressure on the Obama administration to drop its opposition to providing anything beyond nonlethal assistance.Skip to next paragraph
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France and Britain have emerged as Europe’s two hawks on the Syria war, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius telling French radio Thursday that, “We have to go very fast.” Waiting for the spring to take up the issue of the embargo – set to expire on May 31 – will not be soon enough, he added.
Mr. Fabius said the meeting should take place before the end of March and warned that France could move ahead on its own with arming the rebels even without an EU accord. “France is a sovereign nation,” he said.
Such a move would go beyond the Obama administration policy of providing rebels with assistance but not arms. It could also rekindle criticism from Republican hawks, who say President Obama is forfeiting a leadership role and dooming prospects for American influence in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad is forced out, as looks likely.
Last summer, before Secretary of State John Kerry became Obama’s chief diplomat, he had spoken in favor of providing the rebels with US arms – a position that was also supported by top Obama officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. But Mr. Obama rejected the idea, reportedly concerned that arms could fall into “the wrong hands” – Islamist extremists who are gaining strength and other groups unfriendly to the US. The official US position also holds that more arms will make more violent a civil war that is unlikely to be settled militarily.