The European Union has failed to agree on a joint position on supplying weapons to Iraqi Kurds battling Islamic State armed fighters, but has said individual members could send arms in coordination with Baghdad.
The move came on Tuesday after Masoud Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish president, asked the international community on Sunday to provide the Kurds with weapons to help them fight the IS, whose dramatic push through the north has startled world powers.
"The (ambassadors) noted the urgent request by the Kurdish regional authorities to certain member states for military support and underlined the need to consider this request in close coordination with the Iraqi authorities," a spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said.
Diplomats said some EU states opposed sending arms, meaning there was no EU-wide agreement to do so, but that they could not prevent other countries from doing so, if they wished.
Amongst the countries in favour of supplying weapons were France, Italy and the Czech Republic, diplomats said. However, there was no immediate indication that they were about to do so.
Call for more help
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, earlier raised the possibility of sending military assistance to the Iraqi government, saying he would discuss further steps with European partners.
The European Commission also activated the EU's Emergency Response Coordination Centre, enabling it to coordinate aid on behalf of all 28 EU members states, which should allow a more efficient delivery of aid to refugees inside Iraq.
The EU's diplomatic service will hold talks with Iraq's neighbours before drawing up options for further EU action to help in the crisis, said Ashton's spokesman, Sebastien Brabant.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, who visited Iraq on Sunday, had called for an urgent meeting of EU foreign ministers in response to Kurdish appeals for humanitarian aid and arms.
Italy, which currently holds the EU's presidency, has also called for a special EU foreign ministers' meeting.
Ambassadors took no decision on Tuesday on whether to call such a meeting, but diplomats said it could be held next week.
The EU's executive Commission announced 5m euros ($6.7m) in new aid for displaced people in Iraq on Tuesday, bringing the total for 2014 to 17m euros ($22.7m).