UK hope over Syria opposition group

Foreign Secretary William Hague said work with the Syrian opposition coalition was a 'high priority'

Foreign Secretary William Hague said work with the Syrian opposition coalition was a 'high priority'

First published in National News © by

Britain hopes to decide within days whether to recognise the new Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate voice of the country's people, following talks in London, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

Mr Hague, who was meeting a group of rebel leaders, said that the creation of a coalition of forces opposed to president Bashar Assad was "a big step forward", but stressed he would need more information about their plans before deciding whether the UK should recognise them.

The Foreign Secretary will urge the group to develop a clear plan for political transition in Syria when he opens the London talks, which are being hosted by the UK's special envoy, Jon Wilks. He will also press for the need to respect human rights and "win over the middle ground of opinion" in the nation amid the spiralling violence meted out by the regime.

The US and the UK have signalled support for the group but stopped short of the formal recognition of it as a government-in-waiting already accorded by France.

Mr Hague said that Britain's position remains that it will not provide arms to the Syrian opposition, but he will today discuss the possibility of providing more non-lethal assistance. The UK hopes to have talks soon with European partners on the future of the EU arms embargo.

The Foreign Secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the creation of the opposition coalition was "a big step forward". He added: "We have asked them for months to settle their differences and come together in this sort of coalition.

"We would like to be able to be in a position to recognise them as the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, but I do want to hear more about their plans, who they are going to appoint to particular positions, whether the Kurds are going to be included, how much support they have inside Syria."

Asked whether the UK would be willing to provide military support for humanitarian operations in Syria, Mr Hague said: "We have to look at all the options. We discussed this in the National Security Council yesterday. We have made no decision to change our current policy, and we have an EU arms embargo."

Prime Minister David Cameron last week ordered all options, including arming rebel forces opposed to Assad, to be put back on the table amid frustration at international failure to curb the bloodshed. Among controversial strategies being considered by Mr Cameron is allowing Assad a safe passage out of Syria even if that means he evades international justice.

Downing Street said the hour-long NSC meeting involved "a thorough discussion of the full range of options" - military as well as political and diplomatic. Officials are also examining the terms of the EU embargo which prevents the UK directly supplying the rebels with arms for ways to justify such a move.

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