Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Syria crisis 'needs political end'

Foreign Secretary William Hague wants EU agreement on whether or not to arm Syrian rebels
Foreign Secretary William Hague wants EU agreement on whether or not to arm Syrian rebels

The European Union (EU) is united on efforts to find a political solution to trouble in Syria, a leading EU official has said.

European foreign ministers have been at odds during intensive talks on whether an arms embargo on Syrian rebels should be lifted. Foreign Secretary William Hague has clashed with his Irish counterpart, who insisted sending more weapons into the war-torn country would result in further casualties.

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Catherine Ashton, pledged to reach out to boost hopes for peace in the region.

"The European Union is united on the need to find a political solution to end the trouble in Syria and to support the people in the future they aspire to," she said.

"We have reiterated very strongly our support for efforts by the international community, including the European Union. To achieve this we will continue reaching out to all concerned to try to give new momentum to such a political solution."

She said they were considering how best to increase assistance for the Syrian rebels through economic and political support, and added there would be further discussions in the coming weeks when there would be the opportunity to examine all options.

This week, Mr Hague said discussions would centre on reaching agreement across the bloc on the contentious issue, but he would not rule out Britain's dissension.

The UK and France have been vocal in their hopes of arming rebel forces. But Ireland was joined by Finland and Belgium in voicing its fierce opposition to the further militarization of Syria. Two days of Dublin talks between foreign ministers have now ended.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore, who also serves as deputy prime minister, said more guns would lead to more casualties, and that EU ministers should focus on a political solution to the crisis.

A European Union embargo remains in place preventing the arming of the opposition to President Bashar Assad's regime. However, pressure has heightened this week in the wake of the reported use of chemical weapons.

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