Without a unanimous decision among member-states to either extend or lift the embargo, the existing ban will expire on Friday.
However, according to a statement released by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, on behalf of the EU’s foreign affairs council, member-states will not supply any weapons “at this stage,” though this decision is due to be revisited before August 1.
This means that states will await the outcome of the peace talks on the Syrian crisis proposed by Russia and the US before taking action. However, no details have emerged yet about if or when the talks will be held.
Under the terms agreed in Brussels on Monday, the EU retains the arms embargo in place on the Syrian government, as well as financial and economic sanctions. Any weapons supplied to the Syrian opposition in the future are to be supplied “for the protection of civilians,” and should be subject to “adequate safeguards against misuse.”
Britain and France were reported to be the two states that pushed for an end to the embargo, in order to allow arms to be supplied to the rebel groups fighting to bring down the government of Bashar Al-Assad.
Both argue that this will pressure Assad to accept a negotiated solution to the conflict.
British foreign minister William Hague told reporters: “EU nations agreed to bring the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition to an end. This was the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted. It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria.”
Hague reportedly took the lead, blocking a compromise deal during the 12-hour meeting. After this, the 25 states who were not amenable to the British and French stance agreed to the new position in order to retain some degree of unity on the issue despite their objections.
Austrian foreign minister Michael Spindelegger said: “[Talks] have failed…. I’m a little annoyed…. It’s regrettable that we have found no common position.”
Walid Suffour, the London representative of the Syrian National Coalition, the umbrella organization of Syrian opposition groups, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he welcomed the decision to lift the embargo in principle, but questioned what effect it would have on the ground.
He said: “I appreciate the pressure of Britain and France on the other [European] countries, but they are just watching the Syrian people being killed.”
“This will give [the Syrian government] three months to allow Hezbollah and Iran and Iraq to send more fighters to Syria,” he added.
Others expressed disappointment at the move. The head of Oxfam’s arms control program, Anna Macdonald, said: “We welcome the EU’s willingness to prioritise the pursuit of a political solution and its strong commitment for human rights and international humanitarian law. However, European governments should be using their influence to secure a halt to international arms transfers from all governments to any warring party in Syria.”