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

US

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.

UK

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.

France

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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Syria conflict

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  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 280.

    According to the UN, there have been 100,000 casualties during the conflict in Syria.

    How high are people prepared to let that figure go before someone intervenes?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 279.

    Do the Humanitarian thing and support Assad and help him restore peace and calm to Syria,by interfering you will prolong the civil war,
    no matter who wins there will be atrocities committed against the losers by the victors,so that excuse cannot be used to justify your involvement
    The use of WMD's was a fabrication set up by the west and the rebel forces,no ruler would use WMD's on his own people

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 278.

    We must not forget that Assad is a stooge of Iran. Iranian forces and Hezzbolla are operating alongside Assad's supporters. Britain interffered in Libiya and the situation there is just as bad. Is it worth risking the lives of British servicemen withhout knowing what the objectives are!!!!
    Afghanistan / Helmand - a case in point.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 277.

    20,000 British soldiers made redundant and thrown on to the slag heap and now this lot want to send our men and women to another war!

    Again they will go because the US says they have the proof as they did in Iraq!!!

  • rate this
    -17

    Comment number 276.

    There is such an anti USA feeling on much of these posts which is ironic because|:
    a) It is the rest of the world who are demanding a US action
    b) The President has been very unwilling to get involved
    c) The President is the darling of the anti intervention liberal left and seen by them as the second coming.
    No we don't want to go to war but let's have a sensible debate.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 275.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong but the whole point of having a Government is that they make these kind of decisions - its their job.

    As part of the UN we should be involved in the investigations at least.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 274.

    Firstly no one knows who fired what so how can we respond. Secondly, why should we respond. We went to war in Iraq on the guarantee that Saddam had WMD only to find out years later we were wrong. Yes Saddam's WMD are probably in Syria, but Cameron and Hague are war mongering and want to tip the Middle East into total all out war. Stay out of it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 273.

    @ 229.OllyinLondon

    Sorry, but how is not attacking a foreign country going to cause them to attack us?

    Either you're confused or have subscribed entitely to the UK/US brainwashing;

    "WE MUST ATTACK FOREIGN COUNTRIES TO KEEP OURS SAFE."

    Truth truly is stranger than fiction...

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 272.

    ". By 1971, 12 percent of the total area of South Vietnam had been sprayed with defoliating chemicals ( by the US), at an average concentration of 13 times the recommended USDA application rate for domestic use"-Wiki

    Did Obama say the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 271.

    Not our business, we are supposedly broke anyway.... Let the Arab world use their money and resources to fix there own problems. Surely the chemical attack is Ala's will ? Is that not what is believed by the locals over there?

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 270.

    You can guarantee that 'ask the public' will not be high on its list of priorities, mostly because they know damn well that we'd say no.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 269.

    Protecting civilians from brutality inflicted by their own politicians is the one area where other outside states have a right (in UN law) and also obligation morally to intervene. The absence of intervention in the Balkans and Rwanda during the 1990's was a reflection on how ineffective the UN system was at the time. We need to live in a world where Governments are externally accountable.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 268.

    This will end badly for the region, we can't always stick our collective noses in when it suits us where equally worst crimes are being committed in other regions. Russia and China could pull the fat cat bellies and throw there political weight round and calm the situation instead of arming the Syrian government .

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 267.

    Chemical weapons! Wasn't Napalm a chemical weopon and who used that?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 266.

    I just hope parliament and Cameron think very carefully about this and do what is right for our country, not what you think is right and how it will make you look with elections coming up.

    It is not a good situation at all and this is the last think we need to do to get involved in another war. Time for Cameron to show his leadership, not his ego.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 265.

    Not again, please - have we learned nothing from the Iraq debacle?
    The Government has no mandate to embroil us in another Middle Eastern conflict.
    No more wars, thank you.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 264.

    Why are we getting all steamed up? It has nothing to do with us. There are no good guys and bad guys in this. They are all bad by our standards.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 263.

    Another illegal war the UK people don't want but Westminster will put us into. PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND VOTE YES IN 2014 AND GET RID OF THESE WESTMINSTER BOYS AND THEIR GAMES.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 262.

    Military intervention is a bad idea today, it was yesterday and it will remain a bad idea tomorrow.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 261.

    I feel that something should be done, but I'm not convinced that yet again we should be the ones to do it.

    There's a fundamental problem here. The concept of a "sovereign state" allows people in power to do almost anything they like and that leads to a recurring theme of oppression. International law needs to define the limits of government and the consequences of non-compliance.

 

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