By Laurence Norman
BRUSSELS--The U.K. will pursue the blacklisting of the Shi'ite Lebanese group Hezbollah at the European level, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday, although he acknowledged differences within the 27 nation bloc over the issue.
Senior European Union officials have said the regional bloc would look at the option of including Hezbollah on its terrorist list, but there has been no formal request to do so yet.
The debate re-emerged after Bulgaria linked Hezbollah to an attack which killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian in that country last year. Mr. Hague said the U.K., which already labels the military wing of Hezbollah a terrorist group, would push for the EU to follow its lead, although he stopped short of saying the U.K. would make a formal request for the issue to be debated.
"We already proscribe in the U.K. the military wing of Hezbollah and we would be in favor of that at the European level as well. We will be pursuing that, but as you say not at our meeting today," he said on his way into a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
While the U.K. and the Netherlands include Hezbollah on their terrorist list, countries like Sweden and France have traditionally resisted pressure from the U.S. and others to move against the group. Critics of blacklisting the group say it could destabilize the political situation in Lebanon.
No blacklisting can happen until one EU member state formally asks for a special committee to be convened to consider the evidence. For that to happen, there must be clear evidence linking the group to a terrorist act. Mr. Hague acknowledged the "differing views about this around the table" in the EU. I know some countries have asked to see more of the evidence from the terrible bombing that happened in Bulgaria, and others have reservations for different reasons."
The issue is not on the agenda of Monday's foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, but a senior European diplomat said last week he believes the issue will be returned to in coming weeks. Separately, Mr. Hague denied the U.K. was now "out of step" with its EU partners over efforts to provide military training and additional help to the Syrian opposition. Mr. Hague said the U.K. was taking "full advantage" of changes agreed last month to give the EU's arms embargo more flexibility.
But he said there were signs other countries would look to do the same. "I think we are in step...There was a clear agreement of course to amend the arms embargo that way, and I found at the meeting in Rome of the Friends of Syria that France, Germany, Italy were thinking very much on the same lines and are all looking at their own ways of increasing support for the opposition."
Separately, EU foreign ministers agreed to extend by a year sanctions on Iran over human rights abuses. They also added nine additional people and one entity to the Iran asset freeze and travel ban. There are separate sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
Write to Laurence Norman at Laurence.Norman@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 11, 2013 06:35 ET (10:35 GMT)
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