EU welcomes creation of Syrian opposition body
The EU welcomed the formation of Syria’s opposition council Monday as a “positive step forward”, urging other world powers to do the same, but stopping short of officially recognising the body.
REUTERS - The European Union on Monday welcomed the creation of an opposition council in Syria, but stopped short of any call to recognise the body which is seeking international support for a six-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
A statement agreed by EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg welcomed the moves by the political opposition in Syria to establish a united platform and called on the international community also to welcome these efforts.
"...The EU notes the creation of the Syrian National Council as a positive step forward," the statement said.
Syria threatened on Sunday to retaliate against any country that formally recognised the opposition council.
While formation of the council has already been welcomed by some of Assad's Western critics, including the United States and France, they have not embraced it diplomatically as they did the Libyan rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.
EU ministers and officials said any such moves, which would have to come from individual countries, were some way off.
"I think we will have to find out a bit more yet," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said before the meeting. "We need to find out more and decide what we are going to do."
"I think we have been consistent in wanting to see significant change in Syria. The number of people who have died there is terrible. The continued approach of the government to repress people is awful. We've been working closely with our colleagues in the (United Nations) Security Council and with Turkey now in trying to put the pressure on."
The United Nations says 2,900 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on mainly peaceful protests. The Syrian leadership blames armed groups backed by foreign powers for the violence, saying 1,100 members of the security forces have been killed since the unrest broke out in March.
Violence must stop
British Foreign Secretary William Hague did not directly reply when asked if EU states should recognise the council, but said he had met some opposition activists and continued to call on the government to end the violence.
"That is the immediate priority," he said. "The EU as a whole and member states will want to appeal for (an end to violence). Of course we can't directly intervene."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France wanted to have contacts with the opposition, adding: "We are pleased to see the opposition has organised."
Asked about recognising the council, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said: "We are talking to them, as we are talking to a lot of other people who have the ability to influence events in Syria. We will be discussing that further today."
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said the EU should do everything in terms of sanctions to force Assad to step down.
"We know that the sanctions up until now on the part of the European Union are working," he said. "We think that if that is the case we should look for more sanctions and especially for a rigorous implementation of the sanctions at hand."
Officials and diplomats said a committee was expected on Monday to endorse an agreement in principle to add the Commercial Bank of Syria to a sanctions list, which would bar Europeans from doing business with it and freeze its assets in Europe once the move is adopted later in the week.
EU officials say the aim, combined with already adopted sanctions on Syria's oil industry, is to block the government's access to funds, but the effect has been blunted by the decision by Russia and China to block a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution that could have led to broader sanctions.