France ready to arm Syrian rebels: foreign minister


PARIS — France’s foreign minister said Thursday that France and Britain are ready to help arm Syrian rebel fighters even if other European Union countries disagree.

The British government took a more cautious position, saying only that it is not ruling out any options to help the opposition.

Some international diplomats warn that more weapons are the last thing that Syria needs right now after a two-year civil war that has left 70,000 dead.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France and Britain are pushing for an urgent EU meeting to try to persuade the bloc to lift an arms embargo on Syria. “Lifting the embargo is one of the only means left to make things move politically” in Syria, Fabius said on France-Info radio.

He said France and Britain will ask for an EU meeting “now,” possibly by the end of this month. The current embargo expires in May. Asked what France would do if European partners refuse to lift the embargo, he responded, “France is a sovereign nation.” He didn’t elaborate.

A French diplomat said France is not talking about breaking the EU embargo but is leaning toward refusing to extend it in May — a position Britain has also hinted at. The diplomat, who isn’t authorized to be publicly named according to government policy, said it was too early to discuss what kind of arms France might supply.

Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement Thursday “We are not prepared to rule out any options to bring an end to the suffering of millions of innocent Syrians.”