William Hague welcomes new Syria sanctions


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William Hague today hailed new sanctions against Syria as another tightening of the economic noose against the Assad regime.

After talks with fellow EU foreign ministers in Brussels, the Foreign Secretary said: "I welcome today's EU agreement to freeze the assets of the Central Bank of Syria and restrict the Syrian regime's access to the gold and precious metals market.

"Along with previous rounds of sanctions, these tough measures are tightening the economic pressure on President Assad."

EU sanctions against Syria already include an arms embargo, a ban on EU exports of oil and gas equipment to Syria, and visa and asset bans against more than 100 members of the ruling regime including President Assad.

The freeze on assets of the Syrian central bank is intended to help limit funding of the continuing violent crackdown on the regime's opposition.

Before leaving Brussels Mr Hague said: "The EU has also imposed sanctions on an additional seven individuals for their involvement in the repression of civilians and suspended cargo flights operated by Syrian airlines.

"This twelfth round of EU sanctions reinforces the clear message from the meeting of Friends of the Syrian People on 24 February, which condemned the regime's ongoing use of widespread and indiscriminate violence against peaceful protesters and agreed to continue working closely to resolve the situation in Syria."

He added: "That is why we are doing all we can to bring the widest possible weight to bear on the Syrian regime and increase the stranglehold on it.

"We will continue working closely with our EU partners to support the Arab League and its plan to end the violence in Syria and bring about a Syrian-led transition to a peaceful and more open political system."

The meeting endorsed a declaration from last Friday's meeting in Tunis of the 60-nation Friends of Syria group calling on the Syrian leader to step down and urging the setting up of a UN peacekeeping force.

Mr Hague dismissed the Syrian "referendum" as of no relevance to international efforts to impose a "diplomatic and economic stranglehold" on the Assad regime to "choke off support for its campaign of terror".

But he is against arming the Syrian opposition.

He welcomed the Arab League's support and its readiness to join peacekeeping efforts, but pointed out: "For that to work, there has to be a peace to keep."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed attacks on Russia and China's veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime's aggression.

The lack of a Security Council declaration has weakened international diplomatic efforts to end the violence, and Mr Hague warned that Russia and China's actions were seen as wrong "in the eyes of the world".

He said the issue would be taken up once more at the UN in New York later this week.

As well as freezing the assets of the Syrian central bank, the foreign ministers have banned trade in "gold, precious metals and diamonds" with "Syrian public bodies".

A statement said the aim was to reinforce existing restrictive measures against the Syrian regime, given the continued use of violence against civilians.

EU foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton, who chaired the talks, said: "Today's decision will put further pressure on those who are responsible for the ruthless campaign of repression in Syria.

"The measures target the regime and its ability to conduct the appalling violence against civilians.

"As long as the repression continues, the EU will keep imposing sanctions."