Monday, December 9, 2013
By SYLVIE CORBET Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Syrian refugees arrive at the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border today. Routine prevailed at a U.S.-Turkish airbase in southern Turkey on Monday, a day after the U.S. alleged that sarin gas was used in an August chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Here's a look at key Syria developments around the world Monday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
Assad said military strikes against his country would risk triggering a regional war. He said the Middle East is a "powder keg" and no one can say what will transpire if the West takes military action against Syria. He warned "the whole world will lose control of the situation. Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists."
Sen. John McCain told reporters at the White House that Obama must make a strong case for attacking Bashar Assad's Syria if he wants to win congressional backing for the operation. He also said Obama's intervention now will be more difficult because Assad "is moving his forces around." Both McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham, who spoke after meeting Obama, questioned the wisdom of the administration publicly signaling in advance its intention to strike.
A French intelligence report estimated that the Syrian regime launched the alleged Aug. 21 attack involving a "massive use of chemical agents" and could carry out similar strikes in the future. The government, on its Web site, published a 9-page intelligence synopsis about Syria's chemical weapons program that found that at least 281 deaths could be attributed to the attack in rebel-held areas outside Damascus.
The Russian news agency Interfax said President Vladimir Putin hopes to send a delegation of lawmakers to the U.S. to discuss the situation in Syria with members of Congress. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said evidence the U.S. showed Moscow to blame the Syrian regime for the alleged chemical weapons attack was "absolutely unconvincing." He said "there was nothing specific" in the evidence.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's chief adviser brushed aside fears that a U.S. strike against Syria could provoke Damascus to attack Turkey. Yalcin Akdogan told the Turkish daily newspaper Aksam that an attack on Turkey "would be madness and suicide" because Turkey is a member of NATO. The alliance is committed to defending member states.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said his country urged the U.S. not to take unilateral action against Syria. He said Washington briefed Beijing about the matter and that China is concerned about chemical weapons use but that the country opposes the U.S. acting alone. Hong didn't address the possibility of the U.S. acting together with France's government, which supports a strike. Beijing would almost certainly be opposed to any strike.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her challenger in Germany's upcoming election said late Sunday they wouldn't participate in military action against Syria. Merkel said there must be "a collective answer by the U.N." to the use of chemical weapons in Syria as she faced center-left rival Peer Steinbrueck in a televised debate. Steinbrueck said he wouldn't participate in military action as chancellor and would "greatly regret it" if the U.S. strikes alone without an international mandate.
— Associated Press
Around the time of the attack, Assad's regime feared a possible opposition strike on Damascus: "Our evaluation is that the regime was looking to loosen the vice and secure the strategic sites for the control of the capital," the report said.
The synopsis also said French intelligence services had collected urine, blood, soil and munitions samples from two attacks in April — in Saraqeb and Jobar — that confirmed the use of sarin gas.
France is "determined to take action against the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar Assad, and to dissuade it from doing so again," Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after hosting lawmakers to discuss the intelligence on Syria. "This act cannot go without a response."
France won't act alone and Hollande was "continuing his work of persuasion to bring together a coalition," Ayrault said. French parliament will debate the Syria issue Wednesday, but no vote is scheduled. The French constitution doesn't require such a vote for Hollande, though he could decide to call for one.
Russia, which along with Iran has been a staunch supporter of Assad through the conflict, brushed aside Western evidence of an alleged Syrian regime role.
"What our American, British and French partners showed us in the past and have showed just recently is absolutely unconvincing," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday before the French report was released. "And when you ask for more detailed proof they say all of this is classified, so we cannot show this to you."
"There was nothing specific there, no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals," he said, without identifying which tests.
Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to send a delegation of Russian lawmakers to the U.S. to discuss the situation in Syria with members of Congress. Two top Russian legislators suggested that to Putin, pointing to polls that have shown little support among Americans for armed intervention in Syria.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington received new physical evidence in the form of blood and hair samples that show sarin gas was used in the attack. It wasn't immediately clear whether that evidence had been shared with Russia.
U.N. chemical inspectors toured the stricken areas last week, collecting biological and soil samples. A U.N. statement said the team "worked around the clock" to finalize preparations of the samples, which were shipped Monday afternoon from The Hague and would reach their designated laboratories "within hours," the statement said.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to brief the Security Council's 10 non-permanent members on the Syria crisis Tuesday morning. Angela Kane, high representative for disarmament affairs, planned a Tuesday briefing for member states that requested the investigation of alleged chemical weapons use in the Ghouta area outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
The Obama administration has failed to bring together a broad international coalition in support of military action, having so far only secured the support of France.
Britain's Parliament narrowly voted against the country's participation in any military strike last week, despite appeals by Prime Minister David Cameron. The Arab League has stopped short of endorsing a Western strike against Syria.
In an emergency meeting Sunday, the 22-state League urged the United Nations and the international community to take "deterrent" measures under international law to stop the Syrian regime's crimes. Russia or China would likely veto any U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning a Western strike against Syria.
Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Frances D'Emilio in Rome, Ryan Lucas and Karin Laub in Beirut, and Jamey Keaten and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.