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US Ramps Up Case for Military Response to Syria

Guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage seen operating in the Arabian Gulf, one of four U.S. destroyers currently deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, could potentially be used to strike Syria, undated file image.

Guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage seen operating in the Arabian Gulf, one of four U.S. destroyers currently deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, could potentially be used to strike Syria, undated file image.

The United States continues its campaign to persuade its citizens and the world to back a military response to allegations that Syria has used chemical weapons against civilians.

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to speak in Washington at about 12:30 p.m. (16:30 UTC) on the evidence against Syria. And the government is expected to release an unclassified report on that evidence following meetings with President Barack Obama and his advisers.

Obama faces a tough fight to build support for what is expected to be a limited military attack against the Damascus government.

Many U.S. voters and several members of Congress remain skeptical about the need for any U.S. involvement in Syria. That sentiment is shared in other parts of the world.

Syria denies carrying out a chemical attack and accuses the rebels of using such weapons on Syrian soldiers.

British dilemma

Britain's lower house of Parliament rejected a motion for British participation in a military strike. The non-binding vote is a setback to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who told lawmakers a strike would be a response to a war crime, not an attempt to topple the Syrian government.

Germany, another U.S. ally, says it will not take part in a military action, although the government has not opposed such an action.

Despite the British vote, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says, "Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together."

There is considerable international condemnation for what appears to have been a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians on August 21.

U.S. ally France remains committed to a "firm and proportionate action" in response to that attack.

And in Tokyo, Japan's chief Cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan's Cabinet members agree that the use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated under any circumstance and responsibility for their use lies with the Assad government.

Japan plans to provide humanitarian assistance, especially to refugees displaced by the fighting inside Syria.

US lawmakers seek clarity

Secretary Hagel was among a group of senior administration officials who briefed members of Congress late Thursday on Syria. Officials explained why they believe the Assad government is to blame for the suspected chemical attack near Damascus last week.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have asked the White House for the legal justification for a military strike and its objectives.

Members of Congress who took part in the briefing said there is no doubt the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack.

Democratic Representative Eliot Engel of New York said the U.S. officials cited intercepted communications between senior Syrian officials. Engel also said intelligence showed the Syrians moved materials around in advance of a chemical strike.

Earlier Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that along with circumstantial evidence, the United States has classified intelligence that undoubtedly points to an attack by the Syrian government.

UN inspectors winding down

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged world powers to hold off on possible military action until a U.N. chemical weapons inspection team completes its work in the country.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq on Thursday said the team investigating the August 21 attack near Damascus would leave the country by Saturday morning. He said U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane and other inspectors will be in New York in the coming days to brief Ban.

"They will have a large number of facts at their disposal, they’ve collected considerable amount of evidence — evidence through samples, evidence through witness interviews — they can construct from that a fact-based narrative that can get at the key facts of what happened," he said.

No international consensus

International military deployments directed toward Syria

International military deployments directed toward Syria

Despite two meetings of members of the United Nations Security Council, there has been no agreement on any sort of U.N. authorization for action against Syria.

China and Russia have blocked previous attempts at the U.N. to impose sanctions on President Assad’s regime. That has led to frustration for the U.S. and its European allies.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin's chief foreign policy aide said the British decision shows that "people are beginning to understand" the dangers of a military strike.

Other nations have argued against a strike. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his government and Russia will work to prevent an attack on Syria, and warned any assault could “bring great costs” to the region.

The United Nations and aid groups report new refugee flows to neighboring countries: already more than 2 million Syrians have fled, half of them children.

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