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France undecided over EU arms embargo on Syria

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

France has not decided whether to support the lifting of an EU arms embargo on Syria, its foreign minister said Wednesday, in a u-turn from its previous stance favouring the supply of weapons to the war-torn country's rebels.

"We have to give a response end of May. Until then, I can't tell you yes or no," Laurent Fabius said on BFM-TV, after being asked what position Paris would take over the renewal of the near two-year-old embargo.

Debate over whether to lift the embargo in order to supply arms, including ground-to-air missiles and other heavy weaponry, to insurgents fighting President Bashar al-Assad, has gone on since last month.

An agreement is needed by May 31 to renew a far-reaching package of EU sanctions against the Assad regime, including the embargo. If not agreed unanimously by the EU-27 it will expire.

Last month, France and Britain argued extensively that scrapping the embargo would tilt the balance on the ground and help prompt a political settlement of the conflict.

But last week, French President Francois Hollande backtracked, saying Paris was not certain that the moderate Syrian opposition controlled the situation on the ground, pointing to the risk that weapons would fall in the hands of extremists.

"We will not deliver weapons if the arms will go to the extremists of the opposition," Fabius reiterated on Wednesday, adding France needed to know who they were dealing with.

"We have a meeting next week in London, and we have asked Moaz Al-Khatib (Syrian opposition chief), Ghassan Hitto (interim prime minister elected by the Syrian National Coalition) and Selim Idriss (Free Syrian Army chief of staff) to be present."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague is due to hold talks with his counterparts from G8 countries on April 10 and 11.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130403/france-undecided-over-eu-arms-embargo-syria