Middle East

Germany will ‘respect’ Syria embargo changes

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (L) arrives at the Friends of Syria meeting on April 20, 2013 in Istanbul. A meeting of the 11-member core group of the "Friends of Syria" began in Istanbul on Saturday, with US Secretary of State John Kerry set to announce new non-lethal military support for rebel fighters. AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE

ISTANBUL: German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle Sunday said Berlin would have no choice but to accept the lifting of an EU arms embargo on Syria if other European countries push for it.Germany up to now has opposed providing military support to Syria’s rebels, but Britain and France are pushing for the embargo to be allowed to expire at the end of May.

Speaking in Istanbul after a “Friends of Syria” meeting Saturday, Westerwelle said the embargo would be discussed when EU foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg Monday.

“If there are one or two countries in the European Union who think there is no risk that arms will fall into the wrong hands,” then Germany “will have to respect that,” Westerwelle said.

The decision to continue with embargo and sanctions on President Bashar Assad’s regime must be made unanimously by EU members. Monday’s talks will also see EU ministers considering a case-by-case easing of an oil embargo on Syria to help the rebels.

Critics of supplying weapons to the rebels fear they will be acquired by radical Islamists. But supporters say arms supplies are needed to help moderate groups and the opposition’s chances against Assad’s better-armed regime.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced after Saturday’s talks that Washington was doubling its financial assistance to Syria’s opposition and would expand nonoffensive military supplies to the rebels, but ignored calls for arms deliveries.

Westerwelle said the supply of body armor could be considered and welcomed a commitment from the opposition to protect minorities and distance itself from extremism.

“Therefore we are convinced that it makes sense to do more, to step up support for the opposition and that’s what we will do,” he said.

He added Germany would boost its aid for Syria’s humanitarian crisis by 15 million euros ($19.6 million) to reach a total of 145 million euros.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 22, 2013, on page 8.




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