Syria bombing: EU 'understands' recent air strikes but calls for 'urgent' resumption of peace talks

UK

The European Union has said it “understands” the need for the US, French and British air strikes in Syria over the weekend, but called for the “urgent” resumption of peace talks to end the civil war and stop it “spiralling” out of control into a global conflict.

The strikes followed a suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma, a town just outside Damascus, on 7 April, which has been blamed on Syrian government forces pending an international investigation to confirm the facts on the ground.

In a joint statement after a Foreign Affairs council meeting of ministers in Luxembourg, 28 EU foreign ministers of the council said the strike was executed with “the sole objective to prevent further use of chemical weapons and chemical substances as weapons by the Syrian regime to kill its own people”.

​Federica Mogherini, the European Commission’s foreign affairs chief, said member states had shown “full unity” and called for a summit in Brussels scheduled for next week to be used as a stepping stone to more peace talks.

“There was an unequivocal and strong wish from all member states to use the Brussels conference next week as the opportunity to relaunch together with the United Nations the political process to solve the Syria crisis,” Ms Mogherini told reporters at a press conference in Luxembourg after the meeting.

She said a worsening of the violence in the country made a political solution more “urgent” and said groundwork for further talks in Geneva could be laid at the Brussels meeting next week, which representatives of different sides in the war are expected to attend.

“Conditions today are not better than last year. Actually, they are deteriorating, and we are seeing more violence, more destruction, we are seeing more people dying, and it is true that the solution to the conflict seems to be more far away than ever in the last seven years of conflict,” she said.

Conditions today are not better than last year. Actually, they are deteriorating

Federica Mogherini, EU foreign affairs chief

“I believe it is evident to all that the only way to put an end to the suffering and the dying of so many Syrian and, by the way, the only way to avoid that the Syria crisis further spirals into a wider regional or global confrontation, is to put all the pressure on the parties and namely on the Syrian regime to come to Geneva with meaningful intentions for negotiations. Pressure needs to be exercised otherwise the pattern of destruction will continue. We will try to use the Brussels conference to push in this direction.”

She added that this was not a matter of “good will” from the Assad regime, which she said had proven absent, but simply based on the fact that there was no other route to end the conflict.

Addressing the broader issue of Europe’s relationship with Russia, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs identified “an overall pattern of challenging Russian behaviour”, citing Ukraine and “malicious cyber activities” in addition to the country’s support for the Assad regime.

Ms Mogherini said the EU’s policy with Russia would continue to be one of “selective engagement” where it was in the EU’s interest. 

She added that the Salisbury attack had made it “painfully evident” that the EU needed to strengthen its resilience to chemical and biological weapons.

“The Syrian regime bears the overwhelming responsibility for the catastrophic humanitarian situation and the suffering of the Syrian people,” the council said in its joint statement on its conclusions on Syria.

“We strongly condemn the continued and repeated use of chemical weapons by the regime in Syria, including the latest attack on Douma, which is a grave breach of international law and an affront to human decency. 

“In this context, the council understands that the targeted US, French and UK air strikes on chemical weapons facilities in Syria were specific measures having been taken with the sole objective to prevent further use of chemical weapons and chemical substances as weapons by the Syrian regime to kill its own people. 

“The council is supportive of all efforts aimed at the prevention of the use of chemical weapons. This is the position expressed on behalf of the EU at the OPCW.”

On chemical weapons, the council said that the “use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, constitutes a breach of international law and may amount to a war crime or a crime against humanity”. It added that there could be “no impunity and those responsible for such acts must be held accountable”.

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