President Obama on Wednesday traveled to Sweden as he pushed other governments to back a potential armed offensive against the Syrian government for allegedly using nerve gas to kill more than 1,400 people last month, the New York Times reported.
Obama is scheduled on Thursday to travel to St. Petersburg to meet with other leaders from Group of 20 nations. Russia, the event’s sponsor and an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has opposed any use of armed force against the government in Damascus.
Obama last year said any use of Syria’s large chemical arsenal would breach a “red line” and could force a strong U.S. response. Speaking on Wednesday in Stockholm, he said the threshold “wasn’t something [he] made up.”
Responding inadequately would mean the global community merely gives “lip service to the notion that these international norms are important,” Obama said in comments quoted by the Associated Press. “The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of world population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent.”
Moscow would not rule out endorsing a U.N. measure on an attack if Assad’s government were conclusively established to have carried out a deadly chemical assault in the country’s civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a Tuesday interview with AP.
He added, though, that the possibility of chemical strikes by the Syrian government was “absolutely absurd.” Assad’s forces have been gaining momentum in recent months, and Damascus knows “quite well” that outside powers could use chemcial strikes to justify intervening in the conflict, he said.
The head of the United Nations on Tuesday urged the U.N. Security Council to “develop an appropriate response, should the allegations of use prove to be true.” However, the world “should avoid further militarization of the conflict,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added in comments to reporters.
“I take note of the argument for action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons,” the U.N. chief said. “At the same time, we must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate a political resolution of the conflict.”
Analytical laboratories were set on Wednesday to finish receiving forsenic materials gathered in Syria last month by U.N. investigators, Ban said. Findings could be ready in two to three weeks, a high-level envoy told AP in comments quoted on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday said his nation is waiting to see whether U.S. lawmakers grant Obama’s request for approval to attack Syrian government targets, AP reported separately. France would not launch missiles at Syria without international backing, he said.
A potential military strike on Syria was expected to come up for debate on Wednesday in the French legislature, but Hollande does not require parliamentary authorization, according to AP. British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday said he would not re-issue a request for such an approval from his country’s lawmakers, who last week decided against involving the United Kingdom in a possible armed offensive, the London Telegraph reported.
Neither European government has counted nearly as many confirmed casualties as the United States from the alleged Aug. 21 chemical strikes near Damascus, the Los Angeles Times reported. Washington has asserted that 1,429 people died in the incident, whereas France and the United Kingdom said they had confidently established death counts of 281 and 350, respectively. French simulations, though, indicate that the attacks might have killed up to 1,500 people.
Western powers differ on what officials might have ordered last month’s alleged strikes, though they have squarely pinned blame on Assad’s regime, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Paris believes Assad and his inner circle had to have authorized the attacks, but the Obama administration has publicly expressed less certainty on the matter. Behind closed doors, U.S. officials have said the order for the strikes came from the head of “Unit 450,” the Syrian armed forces group in charge of Assad’s chemical arsenal.
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