News / Middle East

British, French Leaders Call on Syria's Opposition to Unify

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (l) and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysee palace,  Feb. 17, 2012.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (l) and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysee palace, Feb. 17, 2012.
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Lisa Bryant

French and British leaders on Friday urged Syria's opposition to unite so the international community can help them topple the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.  The two men also signed a civilian nuclear agreement and discussed defense cooperation at a summit in the French capital.

At a joint press conference at the Elysee Presidential Palace, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron described the lack of unity and organization of Syria's opposition movement as a major obstacle to resolving the 11-month-old crisis - as important as the current standoff at the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Sarkozy said that any revolution or change in Syria can only come from within. That, he said, is the lesson learned from the recent popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The international community is ready to help Syria's opposition, but it must organize and tell the world what it needs.

Mr. Sarkozy described other areas where the international community could act on Syria, including reinforcing sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. France will also be pushing world powers next week to increase humanitarian assistance to Syrians when they meet on the crisis in Tunis.

Last year, France and Britain led a NATO campaign that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya. But diplomats and analysts like Nick Witney, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, note that Syria is a very different situation - in part, because there is no United Nations resolution authorizing military action.

"I don't think there's any lack of a real visceral desire on the part of British and French governments to find a way to do something," said Witney. "But the fact is, it's extremely difficult to know what can be done in the case of Syria."

Mr. Cameron said he wanted the two countries and their allies to continue working and thinking of ways to help the transition in Syria and rid its people of what he described as a "brutal dictator."

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