The EU has recognized the Syrian National Council, one of the main opposition groups, as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The decision came as the EU ministers met in Brussels to slap Syria with its toughest set of sanctions yet.
Although the EU ministers recognized the SNC as the “official opposition”, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told journalists that there are other groups opposed to Assad’s regime which should be urged to unite and become more organized.
The EU continues to execute its strategy of putting political and economic pressure on the Syrian regime to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. Verbally, the West maintains its support of the opposition, at the same time reiterating that a Libya-style scenario will not be repeated in Syria.
Some of the Arab countries, however, advocate a direct military intervention in the country to stop “the bloodshed against the civilians.”
The Qatari Prime Minister voiced his unbounded support of the opposition on Monday, saying that the international community should arm the rebels, since it failed to find a solution to the crisis by the means of United Nations Security Council.
"I think we should do whatever is necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves," Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said on Monday during a visit to Norway. “I think we have to try to do something to send enough military help to stop the killing."
Saudi Arabia is also backing the idea of arming the rebels, with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal saying that giving weapons and ammunition to groups fighting the Syrian regime is “an excellent idea” because “they have to defend themselves."
Syria’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said that militarizing the Syrian opposition is a big mistake that will backfire. The West is trying to destabilize Syria for geopolitical reasons, Makdissi said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Foreign ministers of the European Union have agreed to sanction the country's central bank, freeze assets of several high-ranking Syrian officials, halt purchasing gold and ban cargo flights to Syria from the EU.
This is not the first – or even the second – time the 27-nation bloc has taken such steps. Their effects have yet to be seen, but EU leaders believe that applying as much pressure – both diplomatic and economic – as possible on the Assad regime will lead to positive changes in the conflict-torn nation.
Europe would prefer to have even tougher sanctions in play, from the United Nations, but Russia and China's position as permanent, and therefore veto-wielding, members, has so far prevented UNSC measures.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed the West's continued frustration with Moscow and Beijing for preventing stronger action against Syria at the United Nations.
"I hope that China and Russia will see that it has been a mistake to take this position, that it is damaging their own interests in the Middle East, that it is wrong in the eyes of the world," Hague told reporters.
To both Moscow and Beijing, however, there is a greater wrong – using UN resolutions to justify a military involvement, as happened in Libya.
Neil Clark, a journalist and contributor to The Guardian, believes Western leaders are being highly hypocritical when they criticize the Syrian regime for being undemocratic, and yet fail to respect the views of the majority of Syrians.
“Fifty-seven per cent of Syrians have voted and an overwhelming majority of them have said yes to it,” he told RT “It’s a great day for democracy in Syria. And yet what’s the reaction been by the Western leaders? Well, Hillary Clinton denounced it as a cynical ploy. Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, said that it was a sham, but in fact what is a sham is the West’s approach because the reaction to this referendum shows us that they’re not really keen on democracy in Syria.”
Clark said the West tends to cast a blind eye on huge pro-Assad demonstrations and the fact that 55 per cent of Syrians want President Assad to stay.
“The reality is that the majority of Syrians support Assad, but for the West these are non-people, their views don’t count”.
He noted the symbolism of the announcement of new sanctions against Syria by the EU.
“On the very day that Syria, after five decades of one-party rule, votes for democracy, what does the EU do? It announces tough new sanctions on Syria. It’s highly symbolic.”
Clark expressed his opinion that the EU was hardly a democratic body itself.
“I think that it’s quite ironic on this very day we also have the French President Nicolas Sarkozy explaining why we, the European people, are not going to be allowed to vote ourselves on the EU fiscal treaty. He says it’s too hard for us to understand. So the EU, which is claiming to be in favor of democracy, is actually working against it.”
He concluded by saying that the majority of Syrians do not want their country to disintegrate like Iraq or Libya and see President Assad and the Ba’ath party as the preferred solution to hold the country together.