EU rules out intervention in Syria

Informal talks between EU foreign ministers in Copenhagen ended with a decision to continue placing sanctions on Syria

European foreign ministers did not discuss military intervention in either Syria or Iran, foreign minister Villy Søvndal told journalists this Saturday after the completion of informal talks chaired by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

Top of the agenda were discussions concerning the ongoing conflict in Syria, with Søvndal stating that while the ministers could not expect a quick solution, it was hoped that a way could be found to prevent the country entering “the big clash” – a civil war. 

"There is no discussion in the council about preparing military steps," Søvndal said in an interview with Reuters. "I think anyone who believes there is a military answer that could bring quick help to the humanitarian situation is very much wrong."

Søvndal added that they had decided to take the political route and continue using sanctions, but he also demanded that the Syrian opposition state their objectives for the country should they assume power.

Both he and Ashton stated that former UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s visit to Syria would ramp up pressure on the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

“Kofi Annan’s first objective is to achieve a ceasefire, but it’s not his only objective,” Ashton said during the press conference. “Governments cannot murder their people and expect to remain as leaders.”

Annan’s talks with Syrian president concluded with Assad stating there would be no political solution in Syria while “terrorists” continued to destabilise the country where over 8,000 people have died in the past year.

While China and Russia continue to block UN resolutions, calling for Assad to end the military offensive against a range of cities in Syria, Søvndal said the recent reported defection of several high-ranking Syrian military officers were positive signs that Assad’s grip on the country was loosening.

The informal talks today and yesterday also focused on finding ways of integrating human rights concerns into EU decision-making processes, such as when negotiating trade relationships with foreign states.

“Human rights should be at the forefront of EU foreign policy,” Søvndal said. “I am very pleased that we as holders of the EU presidency have contributed to a number of concrete initiatives to strengthen EU’s foreign policy and particularly to enhance our profile on human rights. It is extremely important that we – even in challenging times – remain focused on our core values. In this regard, the respect for democracy and the universal human rights are essential.”

The meeting today was held in Copenhagen because Denmark holds the rotating presidency of the EU for the first six months of the year. While Ashton has taken over the role of chairing meetings of foreign ministers since the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, Søvndal still holds responsibility representing the EU on some visits outside the union.

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