Syria inaction would be alarming, says William Hague

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Media captionWilliam Hague: Many parts of the UK' Syria strategy still in play

It would be an "alarming moment" if military action was not taken over Syrian use of chemical weapons, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

MPs voted against intervention after the attack on civilians that the UK and US blames on the Syrian government, but the Assad regime blames on rebels.

The US is trying to gather support for strikes, but no agreement was reached at last week's G20 summit.

Mr Hague said a response was needed to "deter" chemical weapons use.

"I do believe very strongly the world must stand up to the use of chemical weapons and there is a debate now taking place in the US Congress," Mr Hague told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"The risks of not doing so in my view are greater than the risks of doing so in a limited, proportionate and careful way."

He added: "If it is decided in the various parliaments of the world that no one will stand up to the use of chemical weapons and take any action about that, that will be a very alarming moment in the affairs of the world."

'Not gung ho'

The US accuses President Bashar al-Assad's forces of killing 1,429 people in a gas attack in Damascus on 21 August.

France supports intervention but it wants to wait for a report by UN weapons experts before taking action.

Both Russia and China, which have refused to agree to a UN Security Council resolution against Syria, insist any military action without the UN would be illegal. And US President Obama needs to persuade Congress to authorise military action.

Image caption US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived at Stansted airport on Sunday for talks with Mr Hague

Mr Hague acknowledged there was a lot of public unease in the UK about intervention overseas in the wake of its involvement in Iraq.

But he said: "This issue is about chemical weapons, which is a bigger issue than Syria...

"Allowing the spread of use of chemical weapons in the 21st century is an evil that we have to stand up to, one way or another."

He added: "We are not a government that is gung ho about military action.

"In most of the world's trouble spots that we are working hard on, like Somalia or Mali, we are actually financing, Europe is financing African forces to do the work on the ground and we help with development work, diplomacy and that is the model we are pursuing whenever we can."

Chemicals exported

Mr Hague, who will hold talks in London with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, last week held a meeting with Ahmad Jarba, president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

He denied the UK's role in the world was "diminished" in the wake of the Commons vote on Syria.

"There are many other aspects to our Syria policy we can continue," he told the BBC.

He said: "You saw the prime minister very busy at the G20 summit convening the meetings about the humanitarian aid to Syria.

"I have been meeting the Syrian opposition, the ones who are neither the regime or the extremists, there are some good people in Syria because without them we can't get the political solution we need."

Meanwhile, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has confirmed that in the seven years before the civil war began, UK firms were granted licences to send chemicals to Syria which could potentially have been used in the production of the nerve agent sarin.

But a spokesman said the applications were "rigorously assessed" and there was "no evidence that the chemicals were used in weapons programmes".

He said five licences were granted between 2004 and 2010 for sodium fluoride to be exported for use in cosmetics and healthcare products.

Last week BIS said similar export licences were granted in January last year before being revoked when European Union sanctions came into effect. It said no shipments were sent to Syria.

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