Talks on lifting Syria arms embargo possible any time: EU

The EU said on Thursday it was possible to hold talks on whether to arm Syrian rebels "without further delay" after France claimed Paris and London were ready to supply the insurgents with weapons, even without the support of their partners.

"If a member state wants to start the discussion without further delay, it is always possible," Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told AFP.

"Any member state can request an item to be put on the agenda of a Council group or meeting," he said after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris and London might arm Syrian rebels even without unanimous support from the 27-nation European Union.

Speaking at the European Parliament on Wednesday, Ashton said that "on the occasions this year when I have put the arms embargo on the agenda of the foreign affairs council -- with all options to be discussed -- no member state has proposed that it be lifted to arm the opposition."

Fabius told France Info radio that France and Britain will ask "the Europeans now to lift the embargo so that the resistance fighters have the possibility of defending themselves."

He said Paris and London would press for quick new EU talks on the Syria arms embargo, which was extended on February 28 for three months by EU foreign ministers, though such sanctions are always reviewed in case events change.

At the February talks, ministers agreed however to ease the embargo to enable any EU state to provide non-lethal aid or training to the insurgents. Britain quickly pledged armoured vehicles and protective clothing for the opposition.

When the Syria issue came up again at foreign ministers' talks Monday there were wide divisions, many EU nations saying that supplying arms to the opposition would lead to an increase in violence.

Fabius said the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was receiving weapons from Iran and Russia which gave it an edge over the opposition in the two-year conflict.