Foreign Minister Tuomioja: Spillover of Syrian conflict to neighbouring countries must be prevented
The meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday once again centred around the serious situation in Syria: “We must at all costs now prevent the Syrian conflict from spreading to neighbouring countries along religious lines. Already there are signs that the violence has spread to Lebanon,” Foreign Minister Tuomioja said at his press conference.
The Foreign Affairs Council also announced new complementary sanctions against Syria. “These are indeed intended to complement and reinforce earlier sanctions concerning staff on the Assad regime, the people who are chiefly responsible for the violence.” However Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja cautioned against expecting results any time soon: “The new sanctions will have no immediate effect; the political process to end the violence is still what counts most. We want to see an end to the violence and we want to see a change of government, and these efforts must be continued within the UN Security Council,” Mr. Tuomioja stressed.
According to Foreign Minister Tuomioja there is still room to further extend the sanctions. “We could consider similar sanctions as those that are in place against Iran. But this requires action by the UN Security Council,” he continued. Foreign Minister Tuomioja insisted that the EU must continue to support UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan’speace plan as long as the UN itself does. “I’m sure Mr. Kofi Annan will know and let others know if he feels the plan is no longer viable.”
The group of UN observers in Syria has lost some of its effectiveness in containing the conflict, Mr. Tuomioja believes. “Initially the presence of UN observers helped to calm the situation, even though the fighting did easily break out again as soon as they left. But even this no longer applies,” the Foreign Minister said. “The UN observer mission is now mainly limited to the collection of information. Their main role is really to go out and see what has happened.”
Finland strongly condemns the violence in Syria and is keen to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable. Finland’s position on Syria remains unchanged: It is paramount that the UN Security Council comes together in a united manner and agrees on a strong resolution on Syria. Finland backs the extension of EU sanctions and the provision of EU support for cooperation among opposition groups.
The Foreign Affairs Council also exchanged views on the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) based on a report by the High Representative Catherine Ashton. Speaking to Finnish journalists, Foreign Minister Tuomioja said “the majority of member states sent a clear signal that the CSDP process shall be continued and strengthened”. The Foreign Affairs Council was immediately followed by the Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers meeting, which was attended by both EU and Eastern Partnership foreign ministers.
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Foreign Minister Tuomioja comments on the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 July