I propose to take Questions Nos. 45, 52, 57 and 58 together.
Syria dominated the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council which I attended in Brussels last Monday. What was most clearly evident during the long and sometimes difficult discussions was the very strong and unanimous support among member States for efforts to reach a political solution to this appalling conflict. The EU is extending its full support to the initiative of the US and Russia to bring all sides in Syria to the negotiating table on the basis of the Geneva Communique of June 2012. In its Conclusions, the Council reaffirmed that the EU will spare no effort in helping to create the appropriate conditions for a successful convening of the conference which is envisaged.
The EU also remains deeply engaged in efforts to address the horrendous humanitarian consequences of the conflict. The Union is the largest contributor to the UN-led humanitarian efforts, with some €700 million pledged in support of the relief operations in Syria and in neighbouring countries. The Council renewed its commitment to respond to humanitarian needs in Syria and in neighbouring countries and it urged all donors to fulfil pledges made at the Kuwait humanitarian conference on 30 January.
Renewal of the EU's sanctions against Syria, including the arms embargo, gave rise to long and intense discussion within the Council. I reiterated on behalf of the Government our firm view that lifting the arms embargo would be unlikely to assist efforts to achieve a political resolution. On the contrary, the provision of arms to the Syrian moderate opposition, no matter how well-intentioned, is only likely to contribute to further militarisation of the conflict and to greater levels of violence in Syria and in the wider region. I further stated my belief that lifting the arms embargo ran the clear risk of endangering the US-Russia led "Geneva II" initiative.
It is obviously a matter of regret that the Foreign Affairs Council was unable to agree to renew the EU arms embargo against Syria. As a result, this will now expire on 31 May. However, I welcome the fact that the Council did agree to renew the remainder of the existing sanctions directed against the Assad regime. These will continue in force for a further year, following adoption of a Council Decision later this week.
It is important to emphasise that all 27 member States of the EU remain fully united in their desire to promote the earliest possible end to violence and a political resolution leading to transition and the establishment of a functioning democracy in Syria. In the Council Declaration that accompanied the Council Decision on renewal of the sanctions package, it was noted that no member State intending to do so will proceed at this stage with the delivery of arms to Syria. The Council also agreed to review its position before 1 August on the basis of a report from the High Representative on the developments related to the US-Russia initiative and on the engagement of the Syrian parties.
In relation to calls which have been made for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria, this would obviously necessitate broad international agreement and could only be authorized through a UN Security Council Resolution specifically mandating such a step. Regrettably, the Security Council has not been able to agree any Resolution on Syria since the conflict erupted in March 2011 and it appears most unlikely that the political will exists within the Council at present to reach agreement on such a proposal.