European powers remain split on arming Syrian opposition

French and British diplomats on Friday attempted to persuade allies in the European Union to arm the Syrian opposition, during a two-day summit of EU ministers in Ireland on Friday, Agence France-Presse reports. 


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The meeting was held to discuss lifting the EU's two-year embargo on weapons and arms deliveries to Syria. France and the United Kingdom have publicly expressed support for direct weapons shipments to anti-Assad forces. 

However, a number of EU members balked at the idea, expressing skepticism those arms shipments will not end up in the hands of Islamic militants fighting alongside rebel forces. 

Fear that such weapons could be obtained by al Qaeda factions within the Syrian opposition has prompted the White House and the Pentagon to forgo plans to supply American weapons to the rebels. 

"On one side you have to help and support people — on the other side prevent that aggressive weapons come into the wrong hands," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, according to AFP. 

The responsibility of supplying types of weapons being proposed, from rifles and small arms to ground-to-air missiles, to the Syrian opposition was not the job of the EU or the international community, United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon said. 

"The EU wasn't created to deliver arms. There can be no change to this principle," he added. 

While it remains to be seen if European leaders can come to an agreement during the summit on whether to begin supplying weapons to Syria, British Foreign Secretary William Hague did not rule out unilateral action outside the EU.

"Our aim here is to see if we can achieve agreement within the EU, if not we can obviously act on our own," he said.

As European powers continue to debate their future role in ending the bloody, two-year Syrian civil war, congressional lawmakers are turning up the pressure on the Obama administration to take action. 

Senate Armed Services Committee chief Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) officially broke ranks with the White House on Thursday, backing GOP demands that President Obama take military action to end the Syrian conflict. 

Levin and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sent a letter to the White House urging Obama to consider “limited military options,” including airstrikes, to end Assad's control of the skies above Syria. 

Levin and McCain also pressed the Obama administration to establish a “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border for refugees looking to escape the carnage.


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