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UK, France not arming Syrian rebels yet

Britain and France said on Tuesday they did not have to wait until August 1 to arm rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, contradicting European Union officials, but both countries stresssed they had no plans to do so yet. EU governments failed to renew an EU arms embargo on Monday due to differences in opinion, opening the way for Britain and France to supply weapons. But EU officials said the two countries had made a commitment not to do so before Aug. 1. "I must correct one thing of concern. I know there has been some discussion of some sort of (an) August deadline. That is not the case," Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC radio, adding that Britain wasn't "excluded" from acting before then, but that it wouldn't act alone if it chose to do so. Member states are to "proceed in their national policies" with regard to the supply to the Syrian National Coalition of "military equipment or of equipment which might be used for internal repression" and intended to protect civilians, the ministers agreed in a statement issued after 12 hours of talks. However they "will not proceed at this stage" with the delivery of such equipment, it stated, adding that the decision would be reviewed by August 1.

French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot told reporters Paris hoped there would be a breakthrough in finding a political solution over the next two months, but that the EU decision was a political declaration that had no legal basis.

When French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot was asked on Tuesday whether France could also deliver weapons before Aug. 1, he simply said: "Yes".

"Our objective first is to reach a political solution," he said, referring to a planned Geneva peace conference next month.

Britain and France argue that keeping the option of arming the rebels open puts pressure on Assad to negotiate a transition of power at the conference, but critics say the Franco-British approach risks inflaming an already volatile situation.

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