The European Union decided on Tuesday to allow an arms embargo on Syria’s rebels to expire, although none of the 27 member states intends to send weapons to the opposition fighters any time soon.
The decision to drop the embargo came after 12 hours of talks that exposed sharp differences between vocal advocates Britain and France and their more reluctant partners.
Meanwhile, the EU will maintain a two-year package of sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
The agreement also came days before an agreed package of sanctions — including an assets freeze on Assad and restrictions on trade in oil and financial transactions — was to lapse.
Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels were unable to reach the unanimous decision required to extend the current arms embargo beyond May 31, and so agreed to renew the other sanctions without it, the BBC wrote.
The rebels have been fighting Assad’s government in a bloody three-year civil war that has spilled over into neighboring countries and left at least 80,000 people dead.
Russia objected to the deal, saying it would endanger a peace conference on Syria organized by that Russia and the US.
The Guardian quoted Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, as saying, “This does direct damage to the prospects for convening the international conference.”
Ryabkov also said Russia might provide the Syrian government with air defense missiles which would complicate any attempt at foreign intervention. He did not clarify, however, if the long-range S-300 air defense missile systems had been shipped to Assad’s regime, the Associated Press reported.
Ryabkov called the decision to let the embargo expire “a manifestation of double standards.”
Moscow had been trying with the US to organize the conference for next month, the BBC wrote.
However, a spokesman for Syria’s National Coalition, Louay Safi, was quoted as saying that the EU move was “a positive step”, despite being “afraid it could be too little, too late.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council would review this position before August 1, in light of fresh developments to end the conflict including the ongoing US-Russia peace initiative.
This article originally was published at Global Post.