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EU to seek 'common position' on Syria arms embargo next week


European Union leaders agreed Friday to seek a consensus as early as next week on the disputed question of whether to supply weapons to Syria's rebels by lifting an existing arms embargo.

Pressed by Britain and France to help tip the balance on the ground by supplying weaponry to ill-equipped Syrian opposition fighters, EU leaders agreed on the final day of an EU summit to seek "a common position" at talks in Dublin next week.

"We agreed to task our foreign ministers to assess the situation as a matter of priority" at a two-day informal ministerial meeting in Ireland that kicks off next Friday, EU president Herman Van Rompuy said at the summit's close.

Van Rompuy said the 27 heads of state and government "discussed the dramatic situation in Syria and reaffirmed the EU's full engagement in international efforts to end the intolerable violence."

"The question of the arms embargo was raised by some members," he added.

As the country marked the second anniversary of the start of its increasingly bloody conflict, France and Britain had warned they were ready to break ranks with their European partners to supply weapons to the rebels.

But there appeared little appetite from some Europeans, keen to see a political settlement and fearful that a flood of weapons into Syria will only escalate the conflict.

"Of course people want a political solution," said British Prime Minister David Cameron. "We are more likely to see political progress if people can see the Syrian opposition as a credible and strengthening force."

An EU embargo on supplying arms to Syria, whether regime or rebel, is part of a package of sanctions that 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, however, ministers agreed under pressure from Britain, France and Italy 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.

"I'm not saying that Britain would actually like to supply arms to rebel groups," Cameron told a post-summit news conference.

But he added: "Is it right to have an arms embargo that basically sees a kind of parity between the regime and the opposition?"