EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. Photo by Reuters
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European Union member states reached preliminary agreement to Friday to impose an arms embargo on Syria and consider other restrictive measures in response to Syria's crackdown on protests, diplomats said.

At a meeting in Brussels, ambassadors of EU governments gave a preliminary green light to the arms embargo and a ban on equipment used for repression, which will have to be formalized in the coming days.

They also asked EU experts to prepare plans for possible travel bans and asset freezes that could be imposed on the Syrian leadership.

"There was political agreement for an arms embargo," one EU diplomat said. "They also agreed to prepare for individual sanctions."

A spokesman for Hungary, which hold the bloc's six-month rotating presidency, said preparations could move quickly.

"(EU governments) understood the grave situation in Syria. The presidency made it clear that as soon as we have a proposal on the table, we will start working on sanctions," he said.

The preliminary agreement comes on the same day that the Obama administration announced that it would be imposing sanctions on Syrians involved in government crackdowns, and the United Nations Human Rights Council passed Resolution S-16/1, condemning the Syrian government's violent reprisals against its citizens.

The U.S. sponsored sanctions were leveled against two relatives of President Bashar Assad, Syria's intelligence agency and its director, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force in response to their part in crackdowns on Syrian protests.

Assad was not among those targeted for the sanctions, which will include asset freezes and bans on U.S. business dealings, but he could be named later if violence by government forces against pro-democracy protesters continues, the officials said.

Obama said in the executive order authorizing the sanctions that they were being leveled as a result of the "government of Syria's human rights abuses, including those related to the repression of the people of Syria, manifested most recently by the use of violence and torture against, and arbitrary arrests and detentions of, peaceful protestors by police, security forces, and other entities that have engaged in human rights abuses."

The U.S. president said that these actions pose "an unusual andextraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States."
One official said the White House is "not ready" to call on Assad to step down because President Barack Obama and his aides "do not want to get out in front of the Syrian people."

The UN Human Rights Council expressed similar sentiments to the U.S. president, condemning for using deadly force against peaceful protesters and launched an investigation into killings and other alleged crimes.

Human Rights Council Resolution S-16/1 expressed "deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of people in connection with the recent and ongoing political protests in Syria, and grave concern with respect to alleged deliberate killings, arrests, and instances of torture of peaceful protestors by the Syrian authorities."

The resolution reiterated UN Chief Ban Ki-moon's recent call for an independent and transparent investigation of the situation in Syria, calling on the Syrian government to put an end to killings and allow freedom of expression.

It noted the Syrian government's stated intention to take steps for reform "urging the Syrian Arab Republic to take urgent and concrete measures to meet the legitimate demands of its people, including by enlarging the scope of political participation and dialogue, following through on the abolition of the High State Security Court and the lifting of measures restricting the exercise of fundamental freedoms."

The resolution fell short, however, of calling for international intervention, and reaffirmed that all UN members should refrain from breaching "the territorial integrity or political independence of any state".

The human rights body, like the U.S. president, refrained from overtly calling on Syrian President Assad to step down.

The U.S. – sponsored resolution condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters by Syrian authorities, calling on the Syrian government to allow all its people access to medical treatment and put an end to all human rights violations.