France says Syria balance of power must be changed

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PARIS (Reuters) – France hinted on Tuesday that it would push to get a European Union arms embargo on Syria lifted, saying the balance of power in the country had to change so President Bashar al Assad understood he could not win by military force.

“France is thinking – although it is a European decision – of going further in lifting the embargo,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a parliamentary committee.

Just days after EU governments agreed a hard-fought compromise on a limited easing of the arms embargo to help Assad’s opponents, Fabius said there would be steps taken to go further. He did not give more details.

“You will ask me is that not contradictory with finding a political solution, but we don’t think so,” he said.

“If we want President Bashar al Assad to shift then he must be made to understand that he cannot win through military force. There is a new balance of power that has to be created.”

Fabius, who has been one of Assad’s harshest critics, said that while some EU nations did not back lifting the arms embargo, Paris felt it was the “right decision” to take.

“We understand the idea of not adding weapons to weapons, but that position doesn’t work in the face of reality it and that (reality) is that the opposition is bombarded by others who are getting weapons while they are not. It’s a difficult position to keep.”

After weeks of wrangling, the EU amended the arms embargo last month to permit the supply of armored vehicles, non-lethal military equipment and technical aid to the Syrian opposition, provided they were intended to protect civilians.

The embargo is part of a package of EU sanctions on Syria that currently roll over every three months, with the last extension achieved with the agreement of all 27 EU members.

A senior French official said on condition of anonymity that Paris would take the “necessary steps” to get the embargo lifted so that the opposition could be given the means to defend itself from air bombardments.

“The well-known arguments against arming the rebels – finding a political situation first, not militarizing the situation or weapons falling into the wrong hands – are losing their impact,” he said.

“We can’t allow one side to continue getting massacred.”

Fabius also said that Paris was working with Russia and the United States to create a list of Syrian officials that would be acceptable to begin negotiations with the Syrian opposition.

(Reporting By John Irish- Editing by Michael Roddy)

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