Syria in Focus as Obama Prepares for Meeting of World Leaders

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Sept. 4, 2013, 9:02 a.m.

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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