|Obama lays gas attack blame on Assad’s doorstep, envoy Power rounds on China over UN vote
US President Barack Obama declared unequivocally that the US has “concluded'' that the Syrian government carried out a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians. But new hurdles emerged that appeared to slow the formation of an international coalition that could use military force to punish Syria.
Obama did not present any direct evidence to back up his assertion that the Syrian government bears responsibility for the attack. While he said he is still evaluating possible military retaliation, the president vowed that any American response would send a “strong signal'' to Syrian President Bashar Assad, AP reports.
“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,’’ Obama said during an interview with PBS' NewsHour. “And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences.''
Earlier Wednesday, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council failed to reach an agreement on a draft resolution from the British seeking authorization for the use of force. Russia, as expected, objected to international intervention.
A tension-filled meeting ended with no indication of whether the resolution would ever be put to a Security Council vote.
US Ambassador Samantha Power criticized the Russians and Chinese in a series of Twitter messages Wednesday afternoon, saying their refusal to back the British draft was their latest effort to block action against Syria.
“Unfortunate outcome of P5 meeting: Russia & China continue to block meaningful Security Council action on #Syria, impeding UN path forward,'' Power wrote.
Obama administration officials said they would take action against the Syrian government even without the backing of allies or the United Nations because diplomatic paralysis must not prevent a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital last week.
Despite the administration's assertions that it would press forward without the UN, momentum for international military action appeared to slow.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised British lawmakers he would not go to war until a UN chemical weapons team on the ground in Syria has a chance to report its findings.
Even so, British Foreign Secretary William Hague suggested that US military action need not be constrained by Britain. “The United States are able to make their own decisions,'' he said, just after speaking with Secretary of State John Kerry.
Obama said he was not seeking a lengthy, open-ended conflict in Syria, indicating that any US response would be limited in scope. But he argued that Syria's use of chemical weapons not only violated international norms, but threatened “America's core self-interest.''
“We do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable,'' he said.
Laying out a legal justification for a US response, Obama said Syria was violating the Geneva Protocols, an agreement signed in 1925 in the wake of World War I to ban the use of chemical gases. The White House has also cited the Chemical Weapons Convention, a 1992 agreement that builds on the Geneva Protocols by prohibiting the development and stockpiling of chemical weapons.
Syria is a party to the original Geneva accord, but not the latter chemical weapons agreement.