As groups and nations continue warning the United States it’ll be acting as “judge, jury and executioner” if it carries out threats of military strike on Syria, Washington seemed undeterred as it has stopped seeking a UN mandate, although, President Barack Obama says he has not yet signed off on a plan to attack Syria.
As the Syrian opposition claims Syrian government forces used napalm in an attack on Aleppo, killing at least 10 people, the US President says the US has examined evidence of last week’s nerve gas attack in Damascus which killed hundreds and doesn’t believe the opposition fighting the Syrian government possessed chemical weapons or the means to deliver them. No evidence has been made public by the US despite affirming their assurance the atrocity was committed by the Syrian regime.
Political uproar in London, meanwhile, cast doubt on whether Britain will join American military action to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for a chemical weapons attack, should the response take place before next week.
And a team of UN inspectors pressed on with its hazardous work in Damascus, testing victims of the alleged poison gas attack, which killed hundreds of people last week and threatens to draw reluctant Western states into a vicious civil war.
Obama, who has warned that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a US “red line”, said Washington had definitively concluded that the Assad regime was to blame for last week’s attack.
But after crisis talks between Syrian ally Iran and Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rowhani have again opposed military action, although publicly agreeing that chemical weapon use is “impermissible”.
“Both sides consider that the use of chemical weapons by anyone is impermissible,” said a statement posted on the Kremlin website late on Wednesday.
“Considering the calls for outside military intervention in the Syrian conflict, they have also highlighted the need to seek ways to settle (the conflict) solely through political-diplomatic means,” it said.
The two presidents discussed the Syrian conflict “at the initiative of the Iranian side”, it said.
Iran, the chief regional ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has spoken out against Western military intervention in Syria after suspected chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus last week.
Russia has supported the Damascus regime throughout the two-and-a-half-year conflict by vetoing UN Security Council resolutions aimed at increasing pressure on Assad, but evacuated more than 100 people from the Syrian city of Latakia on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Thursday on the need for the UN Security Council to study a report by UN experts on the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus, the Kremlin said.
In Washington, a senior White House official told AFP the administration will brief senior US legislators on Thursday about classified intelligence about the chemical attack.
Asked how close he was to ordering a US strike, expected to start with cruise missile raids, Obama told PBS NewsHour on Wednesday: “I have not made a decision.”
But he warned that US action would be designed to send a “shot across the bow” to convince Syria it had “better not do it again”.
He admitted that the limited strikes envisioned by the White House would not stop the killing of civilians in Syria, but said he had decided that getting involved in a civil war that has already killed 100,000 people would not help the situation.
The US leader, who wants to seal a legacy of ending foreign wars, not getting into new ones, argued that it was vital to send a clear message not just to Syria, but around the world.
“We do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable.”
Earlier, Washington bluntly signalled that a UN Security Council resolution proposed by Britain that could have given a legal basis for an assault was going nowhere, owing to Russian opposition.
“We see no avenue forward, given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful council action on Syria,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“We cannot be held up in responding by Russia’s continued intransigence at the United Nations, and quite frankly the situation is so serious that it demands a response,” Harf said.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s office released two documents Thursday meant to bolster the case that chemical weapons were used by Syria. In addition to the legal summary, Downing Street released the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment that concludes it was “highly likely” that the regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attacks in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21.
The committee says there was no credible intelligence to suggest the attack was faked by opposition forces.
The documents were released ahead of a parliamentary debate on Syria. The opposition Labour Party has indicated it may not support even a watered down version of a resolution on Syria.
White House officials would not immediately say whether Washington would wait for Britain before launching any military action.
A French defence spokesman says the French military is ready to commit forces to an operation in Syria if President Francois Hollande decides to do so.
Mr Hollande remained non-committal Thursday, offering his support for the visiting chief of the Syrian opposition but stopping short of announcing a military intervention.
French Defense Ministry spokesman Pierre Bayle told reporters Thursday that “the French armed forces have put themselves at the ready to respond to the instructions of the president if he takes the decision to commit French forces” to an international intervention in Syria’s civil war.
While mr Hollande has spoken out strongly against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, on Thursday he stressed the importance of a political solution and making the Syrian opposition a stronger and more viable alternative.
Syria’s nervous neighbours meanwhile stepped up their preparations for conflict as a strike appeared imminent.
Israel authorised a partial call-up of army reservists, Turkey said its forces were on heightened “vigilance”, and New York oil hit the highest level for more than two years.
“The region is like a gunpowder depot,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned in a condemnation of the West’s reported military plans.
The UN says its inspection team needs two more days to finish their work. But it has given no deadline for reporting on whether chemical weapons have been used.
The inspectors went to the Ghouta district east of Damascus on Wednesday to collect blood, urine and hair samples from victims of the August 21 attack.
The US, Britain and France blame Assad’s forces for the attack using chemical weapons, which are banned under an international convention.