Photo taken from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar shows Syrian opposition fighters celebrating on the strategic Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain, on November 15, 2012. / Getty
LONDON Britain's Foreign Secretary says the U.K. government has discussed whether a European Union arms embargo on Syria could be lifted to allow nations to supply weapons to the country's opposition.
William Hague told BBC radio on Friday that Britain plans talks with other EU nations on the issue. It is likely to be discussed at a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday.
"We will discuss with our European partners the future of the arms embargo. We have made no decision to change that so far," Hague said.
Hague was meeting later with Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces and other opposition officials.
He said Britain is likely to soon offer the group formal recognition, as France has done already.
France first raised the possibility on Thursday of sending "defensive weapons" to Syria's rebels, but Russia warned that such a move would violate international law.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country would also ask the EU to consider lifting the arms embargo -- which prevents weapons from being sent to either side.
"We must not militarize the conflict ... but it's obviously unacceptable that there are liberated zones and they're bombed" by President Bashar Assad's regime, Fabius said in an interview with RTL radio. "We have to find a good balance."
The civil war in Syria, which began as an uprising against Assad's regime, has killed more than 36,000 Syrians since March 2011, according to anti-government activists. The fighting and flood of refugees seeking safety have also spilled over into several of Syria's neighbors, including Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
The fighting has descended into a bloody stalemate, and rebels say they desperately need weapons to turn the tide.
"The question of defensive arms will be raised," Fabius said, without providing details about what such arms would be. "This cannot be done without coordination between Europeans."
France has taken a leading role among Western countries in supporting Syria's rebels. On Tuesday, it became the first Western nation to formally recognize Syria's newly formed opposition coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Syria's splintered rebel factions agreed to a U.S.-backed plan to unite last weekend under the new umbrella group, which seeks a common voice and strategy against the regime.
A French diplomatic official said Thursday that Paris sees quick recognition as a primary way to assure success for the opposition.
The U.S. also recognized the leadership body announced in Qatar on Sunday as a legitimate representative, but stopped short of describing it as the sole representative, saying the group must first demonstrate its ability to represent Syrians inside the country.
President Obama on Wednesday reiterated that the U.S. isn't considering sending weapons to the opposition because of concerns the arms might end up in the hands of extremists.
Although Assad remains isolated internationally, he still has the backing of key allies Russia, China and Iran.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich warned that providing assistance to Syrian opposition fighters would breach international law.
He specifically cited a 1970 United Nations document saying that no country should help or finance military action aimed at the violent overthrow of a foreign government. He also said the opposition's refusal to hold talks with Assad would "strengthen positions of extremists."
Lukashevich said Russia will continue its contacts with both the government and the opposition to encourage them to sit down for talks. "There is no alternative to an inclusive dialogue without any foreign interference," he said.
The topic of Syria is sure to be on the agenda at the EU foreign ministers meeting Monday in Brussels.