What the European Union Lifting Its Syrian Arms Embargo Means

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The European Union agreed to lift their arms embargo so some member countries could arm the Syrian rebels, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced late Monday. The announcement came at the end of a 12-hour meeting in Brussels that saw foreign ministries from all countries agree to extend all other sanctions against Syria beyond their June 1 expiry. 

So now Britain and France are free to send weapons to Syria whenever they please, though Hague said there was "no immediate decision to send arms," from Britain. He also told reporters this would "send a very strong message from Europe to the Assad regime," after the meeting. Other EU countries are free to send arms as they please, too. Though it seems unlikely considering how the deal went down. 

The decision to drop the arms embargo counts as a win for Britain and France. They spent most of the half-day meeting unsuccessfully trying to convince the other member countries to help supply weapons to the "moderate" Syrian rebels arguing it would convince Assad to negotiate a peaceful transition. Led by Austria, most other countries demurred because of concerns the weapons would end up in the hands of Islamist extremists who have joined the fight. The Union had to come to a unanimous agreement before the Friday deadline to extend any of the sanctions against Syria. Evidently, they realized a unanimous decision on the embargo wasn't coming. The Union cut its losses and extended the other sanctions and dropped the arms embargo altogether. 

Monday began with new evidence accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons against rebels forces. French magazine Le Monde had two reporters suffer symptoms of a chemical attack while embedded with Syrian rebels for two months. U.S. Sen. John McCain also slipped across the Syrian border Monday for a meeting with Syrian rebel leaders. They requested heavy weapon supports, air strikes and a no-fly zone from the U.S. government. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.