Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By ELAINE GANLEY/The Associated Press
PARIS — French President Francois Hollande expressed readiness Friday to push ahead with plans to strike Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons despite the British parliament's rejection of military action. Washington also was preparing for the possibility of a strike against the Damascus regime within days.
This citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, shows anti-Syrian regime protesters carrying a banner during a demonstration in Kafr Nabil town, in Idlib province, northern Syria, on Friday, Aug. 30, 2013.
"The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished," Hollande said in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde, published Friday, as U.N. experts in Damascus began what is expected to be the last day of their probe into the alleged attack.
The French president reiterated that France wants a "proportional and firm action." When asked about the type of intervention, however, he said "all options are on the table."
Hollande suggested that action could even come ahead of Wednesday's extraordinary session of the French Parliament, called to discuss the Syria situation; lawmakers' approval is not needed for Hollande to order military action.
"I will not take a decision before having all the elements that would justify it," he told Le Monde. However, noting that he had convened parliament, he added: "And if I have (already) committed France, the government will inform (lawmakers) of the means and objectives."
The British parliament voted late Thursday against military action in Syria, whittling down the core of the planned coalition to the United States and France. Italy and Germany have said they won't take part in any military action.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that there's been no request for a military commitment by his country and the government is not planning any.
"We have not considered it and we are not considering it," Stephen Seibert said.
The British 'no' vote raised questions about France's participation — and ratcheted up pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama, who is also facing domestic skepticism about military intervention in Syria.
Amid the resistance, the U.S. administration shared intelligence with lawmakers Thursday aimed at convincing them the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people and must be punished.
Obama appeared undeterred by the difficulties forming an international coalition, and advisers said he would be willing to retaliate against Syria on his own.
"The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests in the United States of America," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
France has more intimate ties to Syria, having once ruled the country; it also has warplanes and strategic interest in the region. Paris has embraced the Syrian opposition and urged a firm response against Assad over the purported Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. But Hollande appears to be facing increasing political and public resistance against moving against Syria quickly.
Hollande said that France is among the few nations capable of "inflicting a sanction by the appropriate means" and "it is ready." But a decision will be made in close coordination with allies, he added.
French military analysts say France's most likely role would be from the air, including use of Scalp cruise missiles that have a range of about 500 kilometers (300 miles), fired from Mirage and Rafale fighter jets. French fighters could likely fly directly from mainland France — much as they did at the start of a military campaign against Islamic radicals in Mali earlier this year — with support from refueling aircraft. France also has six Rafale jets at Al Dhafra air base, near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf, and 7 Mirage-2000 jets at an air base in Djibouti, on the Red Sea.
(Continued on page 2)