EU Council Meeting Monday: Is William Hague pushing a US Agenda to Arm Syrian Rebels?

Our foreign Secretary William Hague heads to Brussels to attended the European Union Council of ministers meeting monday ( 27 May), to discuss, among other issues, amending the embargo on providing arms to Syrian rebels fighting to overthrew the  dictatorial regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a two year bloody civil war that claimed an estimated 94,000 lives and turned near one fifth of the population into refugees . Backed mainly by France, Hague wants to amend the embargo ( which comes to an end or renewal at midnight Friday 31 May), in order to supply more equipment to the rebels. In February, the UK and France persuaded other member states, overcoming considerable reluctance, to allow the supply to the rebels of non-lethal military equipment for defensive purposes.

In trying to amend the arms embargo, which was imposed a year ago following European Council ruling on May 10, 2011 on May Britain have the support of France, Italy and  Spain while Germany, so-far, remains nuetral against more countries opposing the idea, which diplomatic sources say, is part of an American agenda to arm the Syrian rebels.

In the last three occasions when Foreign secretary Hague made statement to the House of Commons, MPs ( from all sides) were  wares of arms falling into the wrong hands, or learning lessons from arming Mujahdine in Afghanistan in 1980s or against getting involved in a civil war; while last months  voices raised in the Commons warning of another unwise military intervention based on unsound intelligence reports.

the Prime Ministers David cameron has asked the EU to change their attitude to provide more help to the revels. The European Union should be prepared to change its arms embargo on Syria–a move which could pave the way for weapons to be sent to the opposition forces–to maintain the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, U.K. The PM  told EU leaders he fully supported the U.S.-Russian plan to hold a peace conference on Syria as soon as possible, but that should not be used as an excuse to ease up the pressure on the Syrian regime. But he thought it was  right to show that the European Union, was ” .. prepared to change the EU arms embargo so that we can do more to shape the moderate opposition and up the pressure on Assad.”

Amending the embargo requires unanimous support of all 27 member states , which is almost certain they will reject the.  As other EU member states have yet to be convinced of the move,  the Anglo-French plans don’t have much chance of success since  majority of EU nations Anglo-French attempt to amend it are questioning this wisdom. 

 The Czech Republic has been vocal in questioning the quality of the control over rebel forces exercised by the rebels’ major political body, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). The Syrian opposition have been trying to reach some unifying front, but still no clear who are they or whether they have much control of events or forces on the ground inside syria.   Sweden has been the most reluctant to accept the longer-term trend, towards tougher sanctions against the regime of Assad, arguing that that would limit the space for a political solution;  while Austria has been particularly vocal in opposing the easing of arms restrictions on the rebels, questioning the need and the impact.  In addition, in recent months, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said that there had been no EU agreement to lift the weapons embargo on Syria at the leaders’ meeting.

Diplomats from countries objecting to lifting the embargo advise of waiting the outcome of the American-Russian peace summit scheduled for June 12. There reports that the Russians have been actively putting pressure on Assad and will bring his representatives to the negotiating table. Following diplomatic efforts by Israel. which culminated in a visit by the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to Moscow, President Putin agreed  to stop delivering long rage missiles S-300 to Assad, in fear they’d would reach the Iran backed  Lebanese extremist group Hezbollah, Moscow agreed to halt the delivery of Missile SS 200 to the regime of president Assad. In a change, Netanyahu promised to stop any further Israeli preemptive strikes inside Syria. Last month the Israelis carried two air-raids insid Syria  to destroy convoys of missiles on their way to  Hezbollah, which used Iran supplied missiles to attack Israel in 2006.

The same view is taken by the aid agency Oxfam saying it would be “irresponsible” not to widen the arms ban and warned a failure to do so could extinguish hopes of a breakthrough at the summit according to Oxfam Head of Arms Control Anna Macdonald.“Allowing the EU arms embargo to end could have devastating consequences,” warned Oxfam’s “There are no easy answers when trying to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but sending more arms and ammunition clearly isn’t one of them.”

The charity warned that attempts by Britain and France to channel weapons into the hands of rebel fighters could “fan the flames of the conflict and cost lives.” She warned that  arms could be used to commit human rights violations. More than 94,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict which flared two years ago following protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

What is worrying observers, anti-war campaigners, MPs and peers alike is what has been reported of pressure from president  Obama Administration for EU to arm the rebels. Diplomatic sources in the Middle East and Europe have been briefing journalists on the US moves.   John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has been urging the EU to reach consensus on a change that would allow weapons to be delivered to the rebels – though without any decision to do so at this stage.

During Mr Hague statement to the House of Commons, MPs expressed concern that not only arms falling into the wrong hands with really possibility of being used against our troops in future and our interests, but it could also lead into complicating the situation and ruining hard word work by British diplomats working with the Russians, who only last week succeeded in persuading Assad to accept negotiating with the opposition in a conference likely to be held in Geneva. Former Commons select committee on Foreign Affairs chairman Mike Gapse  ( Labpur MP for South Ilford )made a  speech advising against such folly and instead of arming rebels”  We need to …be battering on the doors of the White House and the Kremlin and doing far more to get the countries that really can make a difference to stop the process before it is too late.” (see full speech)

The main concern in Europe is that external powers supporting both side in the conflict, like Iran and Hizbollah ( which is listed by US and a number of countries as a terrorist group) are backing and supplying arms ( as well as sending militia to support his troops) are not themselves pro-democracy, liberty  or  reform will  have little respect for human-rights.While authoritarian Gulf Arabs, like the Qataris who arm the rebels, only believe in democracy as a PR show for holding conference or television shown, but shown little desire to implement any democratic measures like given women or non-muslims  equal rights or even implementing basic workers rights for gust workforce.

The likelihood of the `Monday meeting EU council of ministers meeting is a compromise in the shape of extending the EU arms embargo but trowing a bone to the Anglo-French bloc in by anti-Assad regime strong measure in shape of smart sanctions.

[[ Details of the EU embargo : In recent years we have seen sanctions being used as a targeted geopolitical tool. Governments have tended to introduce sanctions rather more willingly than lift them, and, as a result, the ability of businesses to operate in certain sectors has been restricted. However we are now seeing, at least in relation to Myanmar/Burma and, to a lesser extent, Syria, sanctions being lifted in response to the evolving political landscape in both countries and it is hoped this will create some opportunities for the international investment community.

The European Council (“the Council”) has removed certain restrictive measures against both Myanmar/ Burma and Syria. Although the Council has so-far only published its Decisions, the implementing legislation, when published, is expected to reflect the Decisions without substantial amendment

Whilst it is acknowledged that, at least in relation to Syria, such opportunities may be limited, we can hope that opportunities in Myanmar/ Burma may be more significant. In that regard, those in the energy sector will have picked up on the recent announcement that Myanmar/Burma has put on the market a substantial number of oil & gas blocks on a production sharing basis. Apparently 59 prospective bidders have already registered their interest.

Set out below is a summary of the key changes, and their potential impact, which investors may find of interest.

The Council has issued Council Decision 2013/186/CFSP of 22 April 2013 (“the New Syria Decision”) which amends Council Decision 2012/739/ CFSP (the “Existing Syrian Decision”) concerning restrictive measures against Syria, citing the need to help the Syrian civilian population, restore normal life, uphold basic services and reconstruct and restore normal economic activity to Syria.

The New Syria Decision entered into force on 23 April 2013 and provides for three derogations from the existing Syrian restrictions. Competent authorities may authorise the:

  • Purchase, import or transport of crude oil and petroleum products from Syria and related financing or financial assistance including financial derivatives as well as insurance and reinsurance
  • Sale, supply or transfer of key equipment and technology for the key sectors of the oil and natural gas industry in Syria as well as their sale or supply to Syrian and Syrian owned companies outside Syria and the provision of related technical assistance or training and other services as well as financing or financial assistance
  • Grant of a financial loan or credit to, or the acquisition or extension of a participation in enterprises in Syria engaged in the Syrian oil industry or the creation of any joint venture with enterprises in Syria and companies they control which are engaged in the Syrian oil industry

For authorisation to be granted the following conditions must be met:

  • The Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces must be consulted in advance by the relevant Member State
  • The activities concerned (i) must not be directly or indirectly for the benefit of a designated entity whose funds and economic resources have been frozen; and (ii) must not breach any other provisions of the Existing Syria Decision

The New Syria Decision will be kept under constant review and will apply initially until 1 June 2013


The relaxation of certain of sanctions against Syria comes amidst growing international support for the opposition forces to the Assad regime, leading to them being increasingly recognised as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, and mounting concern at the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding as a result of the ongoing conflict. While it is not yet clear how the application of the derogations and conditions will work in practice, the Council hopes that by lifting the embargo on Syrian oil exports the opposition groups will be able to obtain access to much needed funds and resources to support their activities. The Decision also provides opportunities for international parties to re-engage with the economic opportunities available in Syria and in particular the Syrian oil industry.

William Hague, the British Foreign Security, has expressed caution over how much real economic benefit the derogations will bring to Syria but acknowledged the political importance of the Decision, stating that: “the security situation is so difficult that much of this will be difficult to do, but it is important for us to send the signal that we are open to helping in other ways, in all the ways possible”. While the economic impact of the Council’s Decision remains to be seen the political message that the Council supports the opposition forces is clear.

With reports of growing tensions amongst the opposition groups it is unclear whether the relaxation of the sanctions will achieve the Council’s ambition to assist in bringing the conflict to an end. Although there have been reports that some EU members have been pushing for the arms embargo to be lifted to allow the opposition forces access to weapons, this has not happened because of the fear that any increase in arms in the region could These Decisions reflect the Council’s continued use of so-called “smart sanctions”; strengthening or relaxing economic sanctions in response to the evolving political and humanitarian situation on the ground. Initial reports indicate that both Decisions have been met with cautious approval although serious concerns remain with respect to the political and humanitarian situation in both countries. The Decisions will be kept under review and renewed or amended, as appropriate, as the situation on the ground develops if the Council considers that its objectives have not been met. the conflict. ]]