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EU Amends Syria Embargo to Allow Arming Rebels

The European Union has amended its arms embargo on Syria to allow member nations to send weapons to the Syrian rebels trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

The 27-member group agreed after a marathon set of negotiations Monday to keep sanctions against the Syrian government, but allow arms to be sent to the main opposition Syrian National Coalition.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague says there are no plans to actually send weapons yet.

"This is a strong signal to the Assad regime, that it needs to engage on the political process and, as I have always said and as I have said to our parliament last week, we would only take the step of sending arms in company with other nations in carefully controlled circumstances and in compliance with international law. But this decision today gives us the flexibility in the future to respond to a worsening situation or to a refusal of the Assad regime to negotiate."

Britain and France have been the main advocates of arming the Syrian rebels, while Austria and Sweden have led a small group resisting the move with fears it could worsen Syria's civil war.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council says, in a statement, it will revisit its position on actual arms shipments before August 1st. Any decision will come after consultations with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and after considering the state of a proposed Syrian peace conference.

The EU recognizes the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and strongly encouraged the group Monday to take part in the peace talks.

It says a "stronger and more united opposition that represents a credible alternative for all Syrians remains essential," and reiterated the need for a political solution to the conflict.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt expresses optimism about the proposed peace talks and cautions that now is not the time to send arms to Syria.

"I think it is very important that we have a very solid support for the political process. Because we now have the first possibility for a very long time, as a matter of fact since the last summer, for a political process and I think it is extremely important not to do anything to rock the boat. To start delivering weapons now would rock the boat. No one is intending to do that."

The EU also pledged to work with its partners to ensure the international community is ready to give "rapid support" if a transition in Syria takes place.

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