Britain links decision on arming Syrian rebels to peace talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2013 4:27 AM
Britain links decision on arming Syrian rebels to peace talks

BERLIN (Reuters) - Britain will decide whether to arm Syrian rebels only after planned peace talks involving President Bashar al-Assad's government and his opponents, the British foreign minister said.

William Hague told Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily in an interview published on Monday that the priority was U.S.- and Russian-led efforts to get the warring sides to the negotiating table, but said he was "not overly optimistic".

"A decision on whether to deliver lethal weapons will depend on how those negotiations go and other countries' attitudes," he was quoted as saying.

Hague said it was not too late to arm the rebels, despite the risks involved, given that the more than two-year-old war in Syria had no end in sight.

"We need a political solution as soon as possible," he said. Unfortunately we don't know if there will be one. The conflict could go on for months or even years."

He said Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, agreed on the need for a political solution, but the question was "how much they are prepared to influence Assad".

"The situation is getting exponentially worse and putting the stability of the region at risk. That is the way Moscow and Washington, London, Paris and Berlin see it," Hague said.

The United States and Russia announced last month they were jointly trying to convene an international peace conference on Syria, but have set no date for the talks in Geneva.

(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Alistair Lyon)