After announcing his intentions to intervene militarily in the Syrian crisis, President Barack Obama is working on building support before Congress reconvenes on 9 September and discusses the President’s resolution. In the meantime, other nations and organizations are communicating an array of positions on how the world should respond to the chemical attacks of 21 August.
France Confirms Syrian Regime Complicit
French intelligence reporting released to parliament today tells a story similar to that of the US, minus about 1,200 deaths. Paris reports that the chemical weapons attack on August 21st was ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s regime, but lists at least 281 deaths, a marked reduction from the 1,400 reported in the US intelligence assessment of last Friday. Casualty numbers are also reported differently by the NGO, Doctors Without Borders, which lists between 355-585 dead.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault presented the documents to lawmakers to provide evidence of Damascus’ culpability. Ayrault stated prior to revealing the intelligence files to French parliament, “We are going to give parliamentarians everything that we have—classified until now—so that each of them can take into account the reality of this unacceptable attack.” Paris called for Damascus’ violence to be answered with firm actions that are, “proportionate,” to those of 21 August.
French President François Hollande—who has voiced his willingness to, “punish,” al-Asad—is not required to seek parliamentary approval for military action, as is his counterpart across the Channel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, but parliament is calling a Wednesday emergency meeting nonetheless. Hollande, seen here in a 2012 meeting with Obama, will likely find supporting airstrikes unhelpful in improving his 20% approval ratings among his people however, as a Friday poll reported that 64% of the French people are opposed to any military action in Syria.
Paris has been monitoring issues in Syria since before August, and much of this intelligence supported today’s briefings. Data included test results on samples of suspected chemical weapons that journalists for French newspaper Le Monde smuggled out of the country in mid-April.
“What we were shown before and recently by our American partners, as well as by the British and French, does not convince us at all,” that sound bite was offered today by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in front of a group of students. Lavrov said that requests for further details from the Western powers were met with denials, because the materials were classified, “therefore it cannot be shown to us. This means there are no such facts.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the idea that Syrian officials called for an attack on a day UN monitors were in-country, “defies any logic,” accusing rebel groups of provoking an intervention by the West.
In related developments, an unnamed Russian military official reports that a Russian ship was deployed to the eastern Mediterranean, “to collect tactical information in the area of escalated conflict.”
NATO Chief Agrees Damascus Attacked; No Further Role for NATO
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, favored a strong reaction to chemical weapons use in a Monday address. Rasmussen allows that he’s convinced the attacks were ordered by Damascus. While the NATO chief offered the alliance as a place for nations to discuss possible actions, he says that he sees no additional role for NATO.
Arab League Offers Nonspecific Support
The Arab League on Sunday called for the UN and the international community, “to take the necessary measures,” against their Syrian neighbor. The organization stopped short of defining those measures. The ambiguity was attributed by some sources to Obama’s hesitation to call for military strikes without approval from Congress, which some see as a stance that cannot be relied upon for action.
Some of the Arab nations, with Saudi Arabia at their head, were hoping for swift and decisive action, which they have been unilaterally promoting to Washington. Syria is viewed by many in the region as a dangerous ally of Iran, a country they view as a risky opponent to their national interests, therefore military action against al-Asad’s regime could be beneficial to Arab neighbors in particular. Saudi and Egyptian officials, in the same Cairo news conference, presented opposite opinions on what should be done. Egypt directly opposes military action and Saudi Arabia labels it a moral imperative.
Among other League members, Morocco issued a statement demanding the Syrian regime be held accountable for chemical weapons attacks; however, Moroccan foreign minister Youssef Amrani declined to come out in support of Western airstrikes, assuring, “When the American government will make a decision on this, we will respond.”
Syrian President Says Airstrikes Could Ignite "Powder Keg"
Al-Asad said in a Monday interview that military strikes by the West would risk igniting a regional war in the, “powder keg,” of the Middle East. “We cannot only talk about a Syrian response, but what could happen after the first strike. Nobody knows what will happen,” al-Asad said.
Damascus is reaching out to the UN for support. In a letter to UN Chief Ban Ki-moon and President of the Security Council Maria Cristina Perceval, Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari challenged, “the UN Secretary General to shoulder his responsibilities for preventing any aggression on Syria and pushing forward reaching a political solution to the crisis in Syria.” The Ambassador further accused the US of using force against anyone in opposition to US policies and labeled threats of military action, “out of the frame of international legitimacy.”
Back Home in Washington
The President has asked Senator John McCain—once his campaign opponent—to the White House to discuss concerns that Obama is being too soft in his response. McCain has advocated a strong intervention, telling CBS’ Face the Nation, “It can’t just be, in my view, pinprick cruise missiles,” and more strongly criticizing Obama’s decision during an interview with Israeli TV as having, “encouraged our enemies,” by passing off the resolution to Congress.
Other US lawmakers received private briefings on the President’s position by administration officials, the President, and Vice President Joe Biden. A selection of members from Congress received a two-hour classified briefing on Sunday. Lawmakers are meeting separately, before they reconvene next week, to formulate their responses to possible military action toward the Syrian regime.[Image via Wikimedia Commons.]