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Rifkind calls for arms embargo to be lifted for Syrian rebels

By Harry Phibbs
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The Foreign Secretary William Hague gave a statement on Syria in Parliament yesterday. He reported that as many as 15,000 may have died in that country over past 15 months. Hague expressed support Kofi Annan proposals for an end to violence and political change. The Russian Government was urged by Hague to use its leverage with the Syrian Government to advance the Annan plan. Hague also said that for the Annan proposals to work "requires the Syrian National Council and other opposition groups to puut aside their differences."

But Hague added:

"The Annan plan is not an open-ended commitment; it cannot be used indefinitely by the regime to play for time. If it is not implemented, we will argue for a new and robust UN Security Council resolution aimed at compelling the regime to meet its commitments under the plan, and requiring all parties to comply with it. So we have already begun discussions at the Security Council on the elements of a resolution.

"We do not want to see the Annan plan fail, but if, despite our best efforts, it does not succeed, we would have to consider other options for resolving the crisis and, in our view, all options should then be on the table."

The questions that followed included one from the former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind:

Over the weekend the Foreign Secretary made the important comparison between Syria today and Bosnia in the 1990s. Will he accept that we are repeating one of the major mistakes of that period by imposing an arms embargo equally on the Syrian regime and the Syrian insurgents, despite the fact that the regime has an overwhelming preponderance of military equipment already? Taking into account the fact that the embargo is not a Security Council embargo—it is one imposed purely by the European Union, and could therefore be changed and modified, regardless of the views of Russia or China—will my right hon. Friend have urgent talks with his fellow Foreign Ministers in other European Union countries on modifying the arms embargo to the degree required to enable appropriate military assistance to be given to Syrian insurgents, so that they can prevent, or at least seek to prevent, the continuing slaughter of the Syrian people?

Hague responded that it "is difficult to know in the current situation what those arms would be used for"  and that: "Until all such efforts have been entirely exhausted, I think it is best to continue to aim for that peaceful solution and not to contribute in any way to the violence in Syria."

The Conservative MP for Gainsborough, Edward Leigh, said:

Any western intervention, such as arming the rebels, would make the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq look like a picnic. The Alawites were a savagely persecuted minority until the French started empowering them; there are only 10 Alawites on the Syrian National Council, which numbers more than 300; and Christians are hugely unrepresented. Instead of constantly criticising the Russians, can we not appreciate that they have a sophisticated understanding of the country, and that we have to work with them to reach a peaceful solution which empowers the minorities?


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