LONDON - Lawmakers in France on Wednesday debated joining a possible U.S.-led attack on Syria, after French intelligence reports concluded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
At an urgent National Assembly debate, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault set out the government's reasons for supporting an attack on Syria.
The prime minister said to not act would endanger peace and security in the entire region and beyond that, French security. He said the credibility of France's international commitments against non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, would be put in question.
The U.S. and French intelligence services say they have evidence showing that Assad's forces used chemical weapons last month on rebel-held areas outside Damascus, killing more than a thousand people. The Syrian government strongly denies the claim.
The French government declassified its evidence, which has been published in newspapers. That's a deliberate ploy, said Francois Heisbourg of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.
"One is the straightforward goal of answering the question of what happened and who did it. But there is another goal, which is that the French wanted to display to their own people that they had the ability to form their own opinion about what happened using their own national intelligence means," said Heisbourg.
France has a special interest in the Syrian conflict, said David Cadier of the IDEAS analysis group at the London School of Economics and Political Science. "Syria is not just any country for France. This is in its so-called historical area of geopolitical interest."
In January, France sent 4,000 troops to Mali to oust Islamist rebels from the north of the country. With Mali electing a new president last month, the intervention is seen as a success - and has emboldened France, said David Cadier. "Certainly the Mali operation was rather successful; while when it was launched, many experts were a bit worried about the consequences because the Sahel region is quite unstable - as is obviously the Near East."
French President Francois Hollande has made it clear he won't act without the U.S.
With the British parliament voting against any military action in Syria, Franco-American ties are strengthening, said Cadier. "France realized that the transatlantic alliance needs to be strengthened. And to strengthen such an alliance, they need to demonstrate some kind of capacity, including military capacity."
U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to authorize limited military strikes against Syria.
Analysts say Hollande is under increasing pressure to follow Washington and London - and allow lawmakers to vote on military action.