Syria: Cameron says use of chemical weapons 'cannot stand'


David Cameron: "Any response would have to be legal, proportionate and deter future use of chemical weapons"

David Cameron has said the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is "morally indefensible" after he recalled Parliament to discuss responses to the crisis.

The prime minister said the world could "not stand idly by" in the face of the "massive use" of banned weapons.

But any military action would have to be proportionate and legal, he added.

The Syrian government said it was not responsible and the US and others were using it as an excuse to attack it.

The UK is considering military options following last week's suspected attack, which is being investigated by the United Nations.

Mr Cameron said he believed that the Syrian government had the "motive and the opportunity" to use chemical weapons while the likelihood of opposition forces being the perpetrators was "vanishingly small".

"What we have seen in Syria are appalling scenes of death and suffering because of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime," he said. "I don't believe we can let that stand."

While there was no question of the UK and its allies seeking to alter the outcome of the military struggle in Syria, they must decide whether limited military action was needed to "deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons".

'Ready to go'

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The words "international law" convey the sense of a set of established international rules and authorities agreed by all nations, and easily understood and applied by them. Sadly that is far from the case”

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Downing Street confirmed that the prime minister had spoken to President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening but said no decisions would be taken before a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on Wednesday.

The US has said there is "clear" evidence that President Bashar al-Assad's government was behind last week's attack on the outskirts of Damascus but Russia, a key ally of Syria, has questioned this.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said US forces were "ready to go" if given the order by President Obama but the facts of what had happened needed to be fully established before any decisions were taken.

A report on chemical weapons use being compiled by US intelligence would be published later this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney has said.

The Syrian authorities have blamed opposition fighters, with whom they have been involved in a civil war for more than two years.

UN weapons inspectors examined the scene of one of the alleged attacks on Monday - after being delayed by a sniper attack on their convoy - but on Tuesday postponed a second trip to rebel-held suburbs of Damascus until Wednesday because of safety fears.

'Flagrant abuse'

After cutting short his holiday to deal with the crisis, the prime minister said the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, had granted his request for Parliament to be recalled from its summer recess four days early, and MPs would have the chance to vote on a "clear motion" of action.

Nick Clegg: "The use of chemical weapons is a repugnant crime and a flagrant abuse of law"

Mr Cameron has held meetings with senior colleagues, including his deputy Nick Clegg and Foreign Secretary William Hague, ahead of a meeting of the NSC on Wednesday.

Mr Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats opposed the intervention in Iraq, said there would not be a "boots-on-the-ground invasion" of Syria.

He said: "The use of chemical weapons on men, women and children is a flagrant abuse of international law and if we stand idly by we set a very dangerous precedent."

He added that "any steps taken will have to be legal".

Labour leader Ed Miliband said there was a "lot of evidence" pointing to the past use of chemical weapons by the regime but any international response must be legally sound and be based on precise, achievable objectives.

Iraq legacy

It is understood the most likely military response to Wednesday's suspected chemical weapons attack would be a one-off or limited guided missile strikes on Syrian military targets fired from US Navy warships.

Thursday's Commons vote on the issue would not be legally binding but No 10 sources said the prime minister would listen to the will of Parliament amid concerns from MPs from all parties about the consequences of military intervention.

Although the Commons voted on UK military intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, Mr Cameron has the final say on deploying troops in conflicts, using Royal Prerogative powers.

Conservative MP Richard Ottaway said many MPs felt they had been "misled" over Iraq and urged ministers to make any intelligence about the chemical attacks available to members of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee - which meets in private.

Meanwhile, General Lord Dannatt - until 2009 head of the British Army - said military action without UN backing would be "wrong", and called on the PM to "convince the British people that there is a clear case for intervention".

Moscow has warned that any foreign involvement in Syria without a UN mandate would be "a grave violation of international law".

The UN Security Council is made up of 15 states, including five permanent members - China, Russia, France, the US and the UK - who have the power to veto any resolution.

The Obama administration is reportedly studying the Nato-led military campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 as a potential precedent for intervention without a specific UN mandate.

The US and UK supported more than 70 days of air strikes against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic - in the face of Russian opposition - to protect civilians from further attacks in Kosovo.

But Syria's foreign minister, Walim Moualem, said the US and its allies were using the alleged chemical attack as a pretext to intervene in the bitter conflict in the country and any "act of aggression" would strengthen the hand of radical elements linked to al-Qaeda.

Map: Forces which could be used in strikes against Syria
Country Forces available for Syria strike


Four destroyers - USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan - are in the eastern Mediterranean, equipped with cruise missiles. Cruise missiles could also be launched from submarines. Airbases at Incirlik and Izmir in Turkey, and in Jordan, could be used to carry out strikes. Two aircraft carriers - USS Nimitz and USS Harry S Truman - are in the wider region.


Cruise missiles could be launched from a British Trafalgar class submarine. HMS Tireless was reportedly sighted in Gibraltar at the weekend. The Royal Navy's response force task group - which includes helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose and HMS Westminster - is in the region on a previously-scheduled deployment. RAF Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus could also be used.


Aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is currently in Toulon in the western Mediterranean. Raffale and Mirage aircraft can also operate from Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    National debt, well here comes the foundations of the next one, inflated house prices, more borrowing, and now another alpha male war, makes me sick. Sick of being conned? Then stop voting in these dictators who forget policy to benefit themselves. UK can afford a war, then it can afford to abolish the bedroom rip-off tax!

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Why is this a UK and USA issue? Shouldn't this be addressed by the arab states and the UN??

  • Comment number 238.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Retaliating with yet more violence isn't going to solve anything. We should have learnt that by now. There are 4 things to be done. 1. Find the supplies of chemical weapons and take them out of play. 2. Find Assad and remove him and his cronies. 3.Ensure a no fly zone so the Syrian military can't get around so easily. 4. Talk with all parties for as long as it takes.It's about attaining stability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    America fabricates evidence and Britain blindly follows along.

    Talk about Déjà vu.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Here we go again.

    When will politicians learn that we are no longer the worlds police force, its none of our business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Dear Mr Cameron/Miliband etc..

    For God's sake show some statesmanship. Have you people learnt NOTHING from Iraq and Afghanistan? We do not need to follow the Americans with their endless wars. Keep OUT of the Middle East. There is already great resentment. Nobody will roll over just because the US says so. And you wonder why there are terrorists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    99 years ago, an assassination in far-off Sarajevo led Britain into the Great War which blighted the lives of an entire generation; surely we don't need yet another war to commemorate the centenary?

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    There is only one solution to peace in the middle-east; get rid of a certain violent hateful religion. We shouldn't be taking action let alone take sides, both sides are equally wrong and violent. Best thing to do is ignore them. They can do as they wish for all I care (inside Syria). We have enough problems in this world as it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    We must petition our Government to use nuclear weapons to bring about conflict resolution in Syria

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    What I don't get is why the Syrian government would use Chemical weapons in there current situation Damascus is the Syrian capital (why would you use chemical weapons in your capital city makes no sense...) They know if they used nerve gas, the west would threaten military action. Also they are currently in a strong position in the war. Seems the rebels gain more from these actions, than Assad..

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    I would advise everyone to consult YouTube and look at a few videos showing the sheer horror that Syria is going through. Hundreds of children were gassed to death. The worst possible things that could happen have happened. Are we saying that we should do nothing but keep condeming and appeasing?

    If this goes on unpunished then it is open season against the west.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Just don't do it. We've been here before and it made us look bad because we got the evidence wrong. Changes in Government in the arab world are invariably not in our interest and military action fuels islamic extremism. So, unjustified and against our interests in the longer term-how intelligent does the PM have to be before stepping back. If its time for another invasion somewhere, try Mugabe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Excellent news! Now our MPs can follow the will of the electorate and vote "NO" when asked if the UK should get involved in the Syrian war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    WHO is going to pay THE BRITISH TAX PAYER keep your noses out and let GERMANY /FRANCE sort it out

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Just as I've suspected for a while. I've always been a very strong supporter of America in the past - until the last few years. It's now my belief the biggest threat to global peace and stability is Obama and the American administration.

    When can we add them to the axis of evil?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    David Cameron said MPs would vote on a "clear motion",


    Will that motion be based upon clear and accurate information? Or will it be based upon "facts" made up by USA?

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    We are not the world's policeman.
    Why does everyone expect the 'West' to sort out their tribal warfares
    The Arab League should be dealing with this one. I have not heard any comment from them. They are not short of funds - all the profit they make from oil.
    Keep Out Mr Prime Minister

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    There is no way that parliament nor the government has the mandate to take action against Syria or any other country. We have to keep out of other countrys' politics. No action please.

  • Comment number 221.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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