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Syria: EU wants to restart political process after strikes

Ⓒ POOL/AFP – Emmanuel DUNAND – | German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (C), his British counterpart Boris Johnson (C, from back), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (D) and the head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini (2nd G ) before a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, in Luxembourg on 16 April 2018

EU Foreign Ministers, meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, expressed their understanding for the targeted strikes of the United States, France and the United Kingdom in Syria and called for re-launching the political process to end to conflict.

“The Council considers that the targeted air strikes have been specific measures taken for the sole purpose of preventing the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons and chemical substances as weapons to kill Syrians again”, according to the conclusions of the meeting.

“We stress that the momentum of the current situation must be used to reinvigorate the process of finding a political solution to the Syrian conflict,” say the ministers. “The European Union reiterates that it can not have a military solution,” he said.

“Without Russia, it is impossible to resolve this conflict,” insisted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on his arrival in Luxembourg. And the watchword is to avoid military “escalation” in the region, insisted Mr. Maas.

-Dialoguer with Moscow-

“We must resume the path of political dialogue on Syria with Russia and Iran (the two supporters of the Syrian regime),” added his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders.

In The Hague, the ambassadors of Russia, the United Kingdom and France visited the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Monday morning for an emergency meeting on Syria, after the alleged April 7 chemical attack on the rebel stronghold of Duma that resulted in Saturday’s targeted Western strikes.

The priority is to allow the OPCW to “complete the dismantling of the Syrian chemical program,” insisted France.

For Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn, Saturday’s Western strikes are “a unique operation and it must remain so”.

“A peaceful solution sometimes requires a robust action”, for its part justified his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Antanas Linkevicius.

“The goal of these strikes was to show that there is a red line that should not be exceeded,” said Didier Reynders.

All member states agree: the use of chemical weapons – which the Syrian regime is accused of – in Duma is unacceptable and should not go unpunished.

The statement of the 28 insists on the need to “hold accountable” to those responsible for war crimes. But it does not justify the strikes.

The 28 are divided. At one end of the board: France and the United Kingdom. At the other: the neutrals. Between the two: members of NATO, many of whom are divided on the strikes.

“The declaration of the 28 is the maximum that could be said”, it was insisted diplomatic source.

Many European governments are upset because they fear the reaction of Vladimir Putin, the support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The day before the strikes, the Russian president had warned against any “thoughtless and dangerous act in Syria” that could have “unforeseeable consequences”, during an interview with the French head of state Emmanuel Macron.

-‘Rester unie’-

“The EU must remain united, we must not allow each country to pursue an autonomous policy vis-à-vis Moscow, it is important for the EU to exist”, had pleaded a European official under the guise of anonymity.

Moscow benefits from divisions within the European Union. The reactions after the poisoning in the United Kingdom of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal – attributed by London to Russia – have shown.

“Everyone has made the same observation, everyone has had the same reading of the facts, but not everyone has responded in the same way,” said a European diplomatic source.

In total, 19 EU member states expelled Russian diplomats from their territory, five simply recalled their ambassador for consultations and three did not move (Austria, Cyprus, Greece). And it took a lot of persuasion to convince the 28 to incriminate Moscow.

“We must now hope that Russia understands that after the military response (…), we must join our efforts to promote a political process in Syria that allows a way out of the crisis.France is available to achieve this”, said Sunday the head of French diplomacy Jean-Yves Le Drian.

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