France's Hollande backs US on Syria action

 

Jeremy Bowen reports from Damascus: ''You could sense the tension in the face of what feels here like an impending attack''

France is still ready to take action in Syria alongside the US, despite UK MPs blocking British involvement, President Francois Hollande has said.

He told Le Monde newspaper a strike within days could not be ruled out.

The US says it will continue to seek a coalition, and President Barack Obama is meeting his national security team.

The UN is investigating claims that the Syrian forces of President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. Mr Assad denies the claims, blaming rebels.

UN chemical weapons inspectors visited a hospital in a government-controlled area of Damascus on Friday.

At the scene

The weapons inspectors this morning seemed to be in two or three minds about what was going on.

Twice they left the garage of the hotel where they and foreign correspondents are staying, looking as if they were ready to head out, and twice they went back in. Perhaps they had a plan to visit some of the suburbs held by rebels that they had been going into to take samples, but there's been a lot of shelling going on in that direction today.

Now they are here at the regime's military hospital. There have been claims from the regime itself that they had soldiers wounded by chemical weapons, and perhaps those are the people they've come to see.

The UN says the whole team will leave Syria on Saturday. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the inspectors will then brief him on their preliminary findings.

Syrian officials say they will reject any "incomplete report" from the UN before the results of laboratory tests are known.

A UN spokesman later said the experts would try to "expedite" the report, but said no conclusions would be drawn until the full tests had been completed.

'France is ready'

Mr Ban met the five permanent members of the Security Council in New York earlier.

They have held talks twice already this week, but after the last meeting on Thursday, diplomats said they were "far apart".

Mr Ban was expected to give the US, UK, France, Russia and China more information about the timetable for the findings of the weapons inspectors.

Mr Hollande said the UK vote, in which parliament rejected a government motion supporting the principle of military action, made no difference to France's position.

"Each country is sovereign to participate or not in an operation. That is valid for Britain as it is for France," he said.

He said that if the UN Security Council was unable to act, a coalition would form including the Arab League and European countries.

"But there are few countries which can have the capacity of enforcing any sanction through the appropriate measures," he said.

"France will be part of it. France is ready."

He ruled out strikes while the UN inspectors were in Syria. However he did not rule out the possibility that military action could be taken before next Wednesday, when the French parliament is due to debate the issue.

Neither France nor the US need parliamentary approval for action, and Secretary of State John Kerry said the US could not be held to the foreign policy of others.

Start Quote

The Obama administration believes that it is necessary to punish and deter Assad - the only question is whether Europe, represented by France, will be with them”

End Quote

The UK vote was welcomed in Russia, Syria's main international ally.

Moscow said it reflected a growing public understanding of the dangers of an attack.

And the BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Damascus says Syrian MPs are delighted with the UK vote.

He says they believe a letter they sent to the UK parliament inviting their British counterparts to inspect the evidence of chemical attacks had helped sway the vote against military action.

China, which has vetoed previous UN Security Council resolutions against Syria, reiterated on Friday that no action should be taken until the UN inspectors have reported on their findings.

And Germany said of military action that "such participation has not been sought nor is it being considered".

The BBC witnesses the aftermath of a bomb attack on school in northern Syria

'Beyond doubt'

Officials in the US and UK had been insistent throughout the week that the Assad regime had carried out a poison-gas attack in eastern Damascus on 21 August in which hundreds were killed.

Models for possible intervention

  • Iraq 1991: US-led global military coalition; explicit mandate from UN Security Council to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait
  • Balkans 1990s: US arms supplied to anti-Serb resistance in defiance of UN-mandated embargo; later US-led air campaign against Serb paramilitaries
  • Somalia 1992-93: UN authorised international force for humanitarian reasons; US military involvement culminated in disaster and pullout
  • Libya 2011: France and UK sought UN authorisation for humanitarian operation; air offensive continued until fall of Gaddafi

However British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament on Thursday he could not be 100% sure.

In the US, government officials briefed a Congressional committee on the case for launching action against Mr Assad's forces.

Eliot Engel, the top Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters after the briefing that officials had said it was "beyond a doubt that chemical weapons were used, and used intentionally by the Assad regime".

Mr Engel said officials had cited evidence including "intercepted communications from high-level Syrian officials".

Reports in the US media this week described Syrian officials suggesting in phone conversations that the chemical weapons attack had been more devastating than was intended.

A Syrian general who defected and fled to Turkey last year told the BBC in Istanbul that the current head of the regime's chemical weapons programme had been killed.

Gen Adnan Sillu, who said he had once been head of the programme, claimed that his successor, Gen Mohamed Aslan, was responsible for last week's attack in Damascus.

Gen Sillu said Gen Aslan had been killed as part of the regime's attempt to destroy evidence of the attack.

His claim could not be independently verified.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have died since the conflict erupted in Syria in March 2011, and the conflict has produced at least 1.7 million refugees.

Syria map

Forces which could be used against Syria:

Four US destroyers - USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan - are in the eastern Mediterranean, equipped with cruise missiles. The missiles can also be fired from submarines, but the US Navy does not reveal their locations

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

French aircraft carrierCharles de Gaulle is currently in Toulon in the western Mediterranean

French Rafale and Mirage aircraft can also operate from Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE

 

More on This Story

Syria conflict

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  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 105.

    Iran and Middle-Eastş are cancer of United States and Israel. For this reason, should be referred to both Syria and Iran. Let's not forget tomorrow will be too late.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 104.

    14.
    nowhere-zero
    'France: America's oldest enemy.'

    Not sure if you are having a laugh there. If not, get a history book. They helped the US fighting alongside them against the British in the Revolutionary war.

    I think parliament has done the right thing here with their vote and are waiting for more evidence as to who did what before deciding. No more blind following of US 'intelligence' per Iraq

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 103.

    Obama has brought this on himself since he never earned the respect of the British, specially its conservative government, so it is no surprise that he is not getting British support for this military operation. On the other hand the US has other countries such as the French & the Turks, not to mention the Arabs, who are more than willing to act jointly with the U.S. Obama needs to act decisively!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 102.

    It's a pity that none of these countries are able to put pressure on the Hague to put out arrest warrants for all the war criminals in Syria and from both sides.
    Don't they know that military action will only serve to kill more innocent people?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 101.

    The US claiming it is defending International Law and fighting Crimes Against Humanity. The US breaks these laws daily for its detention of prisoners at Guantanamo bay, its use of White Phosphorous on civilian targets and its many massacres where all those charged received minimal sentences or, as in the case of the Haditha massacre all defendants got off because the head of the USMC interfered.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 100.

    An opportunity for a substantial and robust UN Peacekeeping and monitoring force established, tied to mutual decommissioning of storage and production of poison gas in Syria, Germany and others, could signal to domestic and international stakeholders that the way forward is diplomacy and human rights based on civilian well being.

    Backing rebels risks alliance with transgressors of human rights.

  • rate this
    -22

    Comment number 99.

    Oh good. We are officially more cowardly than the French! All thanks to a Labour PR / vote-grabbing stunt.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 98.

    a country that used depleted uranium in Iraq.
    a country that used agent orange-Vietnam etc
    a country that dropped the atomic bomb.
    A country that is trillions and trillions of dollars in debt.
    A leader that won the Nobel peace prize.

    As Bill Hicks rip said "Christians who kill.We've just about run out of ideas on this planet,havent we?"

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 97.

    60.Cicero
    Anyone supporting military action DIRECTLY ally themselves with those who murdered Lee Rigby. And let the Saudis spend their billions - we keep being told the UK is broke!


    What a nonsense post! Thats the same as saying anyone who doesn't support military action ally themselves directly with those who use chemical weapons...

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 96.

    What is also striking in these comments is how few people have any sense of pity for all these civilian victims.Certainly we want to avoid any casualties but to compare our own relatively trivial problems due to the recession is the height of selfishness & indifference.

  • rate this
    -25

    Comment number 95.

    Brits politicos have no b***s

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 94.

    France doesnt represent nothing in the world.With Hollande they go in large steps to a subdeveloped country,Hollande its a poisoned ally for everybody.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 93.

    What will it take the U.S. politicians to convince - history will repeat itself.
    As for the french - deja vue. 100's will die every day in the aftermath. Poor middle east - religious differances aside. UN should look to pass legistlation for total chemical disarmament and FORCED destruction from EVERY signle country. To be carried out by the countries who are advocating attacks. Cost = weapon

  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 92.

    Hollande said ""France will be part of it. France is ready."

    Sounds like something George W Bush would have said. Soon he may threaten to "smoke 'em out"

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 91.

    @50 this is neither the UK or USA's war; we were dragged into Bushes war and look at the state there........ and if you are so anti UK why are you using the British Broadcasting Corporation website??????

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 90.

    It seems as though most of us approve the decision taken in the UK Parliament on our behalf, and it is high time our MPs acknowledged we are not the world's policeman. Why are we always the ones to intervene? Let France and the USA get on with it, they don't need our military assistance.

    Well done Parliament.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 89.

    50.Chuck
    14 Minutes ago
    At least France has a set of balls . The UK is a bunch of babies . I hope the UK needs the USA and we say no way , stand alone on your little rock !

    +++

    Then it's clear that the First Puppy, Bo, isn't the only resident of the White House who has lost his.

    B O tells us that his Red Line has been crossed but his still does nowt.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 88.

    "59.
    baz
    11 Minutes ago

    I admire the French for their great sense of humanity, not like the pacifists here who only preach self preservation, anyone who could turn their back on children dying a horrific painful death is just despicable
    .
    It's a good job only a few existed WW2 otherwise we would be speaking German now"

    So baz, when do you ship out to lend a hand?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 87.

    Once the evidence is clear that Assad did it, there should be another parlimentary vote and I bet it will be overwhelming in favour of direct action against Assad. But right now, evidence isn't there and it doesn't make logical sense. So, acting in haste is not the right thing to do -if anything Iraq has taught us!

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 86.

    "Chuck
    At least France has a set of balls . The UK is a bunch of babies "

    Where was France in Iraq? Where was the UK?

 

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