BRUSSELS, May 28 (RIA Novosti) – The European Union has scrapped the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition but extended sanctions against the Syrian government after June 1, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
Hague spoke late on Monday after a day-long meeting of the 27 EU foreign ministers in Brussels that reportedly failed to block the UK and France's push toward supplying Syrian rebels with weapons.
"It was important for Europe to send a clear signal to the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so," Hague said in a statement.
According to the Associated Press, Hague “insisted that Britain had 'no immediate plans to send arms to Syria.'"
“It gives us flexibility to respond in the future if the situation [in Syria] continues to deteriorate,” the Associated Press quoted Hague as saying.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton confirmed on Monday that from now on every EU member country has the right to make its own decision on arms exports to Syria.
She affirmed that any arms sent to Syria would be "intended for the protection of civilians," and added that the European Union governments would review the position on Syria sanctions before August 1.
The EU foreign ministers also supported the Russian-US initiative to hold an international conference in Geneva on facilitating a peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis.
The European Union imposed economic and political sanctions against Assad's regime in 2011.
The sanctions include an arms exports embargo as well as travel bans and asset freezes on more than 120 individuals and 40 companies.
The EU has also banned crude oil imports from Syria and has blocked trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Syrian public bodies and the central bank.
According to latest UN estimates, at least 80,000 people have been killed and more than 700,000 have been forced to flee Syria since the revolt against Assad’s regime began in March 2011.