European Union threatens new sanctions on Syria but not Russia

EUROPEAN UNION (OBSERVATORY) –¬†European Union foreign ministers threatened on Monday to impose new sanctions on Syria over what the West says are chemical weapons attacks on its own people but have declined to join new US punitive measures against Russia.

EU foreign ministers discussed steps that would isolate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after Britain and France joined the United States in launching a barrage of missiles aimed at paralyzing chemical weapons facilities in Syria and preventing their use.

“The EU will continue to discuss further restrictive measures against Syria as long as repression continues,” all 28 EU member states said in a statement after talks in Luxembourg, referring to economic sanctions.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Louis Le Royan and his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, called on the foreign ministers of the EU countries to take part in the air strikes on Saturday. The ministers’ ratification showed European unity, said Le Derrien, after years of divisions in the EU on how best to end the Syrian war and whether Assad would be part of any future government.

Western powers said the strikes came in response to a poison gas attack on April 7 on an opposition pocket in Douma and was a way to stop the use of chemical weapons.

“It is very important to stress that the strikes were not an attempt to change the direction of the war in Syria or to change the regime there,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters on arrival.

“I am afraid that the Syrian war will continue on its miserable and miserable course. But the world was saying (through strikes) that it no longer tolerates the use of chemical weapons.”

The imposition of any new sanctions on Assad would be in addition to a series of such measures taken by the European Union since 2011, ranging from the arms embargo and the prohibition of dealing with the Central Bank of Syria to impose a travel ban and freeze funds on Syrian officials, military, businessmen and scientists accused of developing chemical weapons.

The ministers discussed in a separate session Iran’s role in the Syrian war, but there was no breakthrough on the chances of new sanctions proposed by Britain, France and Germany imposed on Iranians accused of helping the Syrian regime.

But European Union diplomats said on Monday they had not made a decision to target Russian military figures who, along with Iran, helped Assad regain the territory controlled by the opposition and the West accuses it of war crimes caused by air strikes and gas attacks on civilians and hospitals.

– Call for aid to enter –

– The United States is considering imposing new economic sanctions on Russia aimed at companies it says are dealing in chemical-related equipment, the United States ambassador to the United Nations said on Friday.

EU diplomats said European governments would not follow the pace of the United States quickly until they take a more comprehensive view of what Washington is planning. In the past, the actions taken by the European Union sometimes come after months of US action.

Russia is Europe’s largest energy supplier. The European Union has imposed heavy sanctions on Moscow’s financial, defense and energy sectors on the Ukrainian crisis, but close ties between Russia and some EU member states hinder discussion of further sanctions.

EU foreign ministers blamed Russia, Iran and Turkey for calling for an end to the war and allowing humanitarian aid to all besieged areas, saying 13.1 million people needed aid, many of them under siege.

“We must continue to push through the Security Council for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid and then a peace process,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Block told reporters.

“The only solution is a peace process through the Security Council,” Blok, who met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday, told reporters.

Within the bloc, most governments now agree that Assad can not continue as president if peace talks succeed. It is scheduled to hold an international donor conference for Syria next week.

“There will be a solution involving all those who have influence in the region,” German Foreign Minister Haikou Mas said in Luxembourg. “Nobody can imagine that someone who uses chemical weapons against his people is part of the solution.”