The European Union is expected to extend sanctions on Syria next week to include President Bashar al-Assad, said an EU diplomat.
The 28-nation bloc decided last week to impose sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on 13 of Assad’s closest allies in response to a violent crackdown on pro-reform protests on top of an arms embargo already in place against Syria.
But they stopped short of including Assad on the list, with some EU states arguing that this could make it harder to encourage change in the country, Reuters reports.
An EU diplomat said the debate this week had hardened and the issue had been only whether to announce the decision immediately or leave it to a meeting of EU foreign ministers next Monday.
“What I detect from members states…is that there is a clear majority, if not now a consensus, for putting him on the list,” the diplomat said.
“There has been so much criticism from the European Parliament and the media for not having put Bashar on the list immediately that I think they were more responsive for a second round of sanctions with him on it.
“If you do it next Monday you allow foreign ministers to…emphasize how important this decision is,” he said.
Ambassadors from EU member states agreed at a meeting on Tuesday to add about a dozen new names to the sanctions list to be approved by the ministers.
The United States imposed sanctions on Assad and six senior officials on Wednesday in an escalation of pressure on his government to halt its bloody crackdown on protesters.
It, like the European Union, had previously avoided personally targeting Assad and the U.S. move raises questions about whether Washington and the West may ultimately seek Assad’s removal from power.
The EU diplomat questioned if putting Assad on the sanctions list was the right strategy and said Arab countries had praised the original EU decision to leave him off it.
“Arab countries told us we must keep some wild card to get our message through and that by putting him on the list too quickly we would be disregarded by the people in Damascus,” the diplomat said.
“By putting Bashar on the list, are you really putting the right kind of pressure on him? I am not convinced,” the diplomat said. “To be honest, I’m still not sure that it’s a smart move.”
Rights groups say hundreds of people have been killed during two months of pro-democracy unrest in Syria so far.
Syrian authorities have blamed most of the violence on armed groups backed by Islamists and outside powers, who they say have killed more than 120 members of the security forces.