PARIS— The United States said on Sunday it did not rule out returning to the U.N. Security Council to secure a Syria resolution once U.N. inspectors complete a report on a chemical weapons attack, but indicated Arab countries were seeking a tough response.
Speaking at a news conference in Paris after meeting key Arab foreign ministers, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said they were leaning towards supporting a G20 statement - already signed by 12 countries - that called for a strong international response following an August 21 chemical attack in Syria.
Washington and Paris say forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were behind the attack in which more than 1,400 are estimated to have been killed, and that he should be deterred from using such weapons again.
French President Francois Hollande, increasingly under pressure at home and among European partners to seek a U.N. mandate before any military intervention in Syria, on Saturday suggested he could seek a resolution at the U.N. Security Council despite previous Russian and Chinese vetoes.
French officials say a draft resolution presented jointly by Britain and France at the end of August was not even read by Russia and China, let alone discussed.
U.N. inspectors are likely to hand in their report later this week roughly at the same time as the U.S. Congress votes on whether to allow limited strikes on Syria.
No decision by Obama
“On President Hollande's comments with respect to the U.N., the president (Obama), and all of us, are listening carefully to all of our friends,” Kerry said. “No decision has been made by the president,” Kerry added.
After the news conference, a U.S. official said Washington was not seeking a vote at the moment.
“We have always supported working through the U.N. but have been clear there is not a path forward there and we are not currently considering proposing another vote,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The meeting with Arab ministers, including from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, followed talks in Lithuania with European foreign ministers, who blamed the attack in Syria on Assad but refused to endorse military action.
“All of us agreed - not one dissenter - that Assad's deplorable use of chemical weapons, which we know killed hundreds of innocent people ... this crosses an international, global red line,” Kerry said alongside his Qatari counterpart Khaled al-Attiya.
“A number of countries immediately signed on to the G20 agreement that was reached by now 12 countries on the side of the G20 meeting and they will make their own announcements in the next 24 hours about that,” added Kerry.
Qatar has strongly backed the Syrian opposition.
“As for Syria and what Qatar is willing to provide, Qatar is currently studying with its friends and the United Nations what it could provide in order to protect the Syrian people,” Attiya said without elaborating.
Kerry met his French counterpart Laurent Fabius on Saturday as the two allies look to widen their international coalition against Assad and sway reticent public opinions. Fabius on Sunday repeated that Assad could not be left unpunished.
“If we don't react, that means we're sending, today or tomorrow, a telegram to Assad, to the Iranians, the North Koreans and to all terrorist groups starting with al-Qaida. We are sending them a telegram saying 'go on, use chemical weapons,' and by all means we don't want that” Fabius told France 3 TV.