News / Middle East

US to Seek International Coalition on Syria

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, gestures as he answers questions from reporters during his visit at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines, Aug. 30, 2013.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, gestures as he answers questions from reporters during his visit at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines, Aug. 30, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
VOA News
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the United States will continue to seek an international coalition in response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, despite opposition by British lawmakers to any military action.
 
"Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together," Hagel said in Manila Friday, after 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 military strike would be a response to a war crime, not an attempt to topple the Syrian government. 
 
Reacting to the British vote, Hagel said, “First, every nation has the responsibility to make their own decisions.  And we respect that with any nation.  We are continuing to consult with the British as we are with all of our allies and partners.  And that consultation includes ways forward, together on a response to this weapons attack in Syria."
 
Asked what Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, could do to avoid a military strike, the U.S. defense secretary responded he has "not been informed of any change in the Assad regime's position on any issue." 
 
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said the British vote will not affect his country's position on Syria. In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, he said he does not favor international action merely to overthrow the government, but a chemical assault must not go unpunished. 

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.
 
Germany also appears to be backing away from any military intervention in Syria. Government officials say a military commitment has not been requested and is not being considered. 

Intelligence 

The White House could make public on Friday a declassified version of an intelligence report on an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. 
 
Members of Congress who were briefed by senior administration officials on Thursday say there is no doubt the Syrian government carried out the deadly attack near Damascus, last week. 
 
Democratic Representative Eliot Engel of New York said the U.S. officials cited intercepted communications between senior Syrian officials. He also said intelligence showed the Syrians moved materials around in advance of a chemical strike.

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

President Barack Obama is still deciding how to respond to Syria. A military strike against the Assad government appears to be the most likely course of action.

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

UN inspectors leave the Four Seasons Hotel in their vehicles in Damascus, Syria, Aug. 29, 2013.
UN inspectors leave the Four Seasons Hotel in their vehicles in Damascus, Syria, Aug. 29, 2013.


UN inspectors winding down Syria probe

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has 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.  While some will remain in Europe to analyze their samples, Haq said U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane and other inspectors will be in New York in the coming days to brief Mr. 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.

Once laboratory results are in, the team will issue a final report.  Haq said, “It is imperative that the work that the investigation team does be seen by all as fair, impartial and accurate.”

Also Thursday, Russia called a meeting of the other permanent members of the Security Council.  Talks with Britain, China, France and the United States lasted about 45 minutes, but diplomats did not brief reporters on what transpired.  On Wednesday, the group met to discuss a resolution proposed by Britain that would authorize “all necessary measures” to protect Syrian civilians.

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 Wednesday, Deputy U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that despite Russian opposition to a U.N. authorization of force in Syria, Washington will take its own “appropriate actions to respond in the days ahead.”

Other nations react to possible military 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.  

Iran also has warned that any Western action against Syria would result in the “imminent destruction of Israel,” a U.S. ally in the region.

Also Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government supports Washington and its other allies contemplating a military response to Syria.  He said, however, the Canadian military would not take a role in any attack.

In Tokyo, Japan's chief Cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan's Cabinet members are in agreement that the use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated under any circumstance and responsibility for their use lies with the Assad government. Japan, a close American ally, has constitutional restraints on joining any military action. But Suga says Japan will provide humanitarian assistance, especially to refugees displaced by the fighting inside Syria.

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.

In Syria, opposition activists say there is heavy shelling, on Friday in suburban Damascus. 

VOA's Steve Herman contributed to this report from Bangkok.  Marissa Melton and Sam Verma contributed from Washington.

Photo Gallery: Latest Images from Syria 
  • In this citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, Syrians search under rubble to rescue people from houses that were destroyed by a Syrian government warplane in Idlib province, August 30, 2013.
  • In this citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, smoke rises after explosives were dropped by a Syrian government warplane in Idlib province, August 30, 2013.
  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, U.N. investigators gather potential evidence in a Damascus suburb, August 28, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by the United media office of Arbeen shows Syrians moving a man who was allegedly exposed to chemical weapons to show him to U.N. investigators in a Damascus suburb, August 28, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by the United media office of Arbeen shows U.N. investigators in a suburb of Damascus, August 28, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they escort U.N. vehicles carrying chemical weapons experts at the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, August 28, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters deploy in Aleppo's town of Khanasir after seizing it, August 26, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters inspect munitions and a tank that belonged to forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after they seized Khanasir, August 26, 2013.
  • A U.N. chemical weapons expert gathers evidence at site of an alleged poison gas attack in a southwestern Damascus suburb, August 26, 2013.
  • An image grab taken from a video posted by Syrian activists purportedly shows a U.N. inspector speaking to a man in a Damascus suburb, August 26, 2013.
  • U.N. chemical weapons experts visit a hospital where wounded people affected by a suspected gas attack are being treated, in a southwestern Damascus suburb, August 26, 2013.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid