Syrian President Bashir al-Assad said that the US statement that there was "very little doubt" Syria had used chemical weapons on civilians was illogical, telling Russian newspaper Izvestia that any US intervention would fail.
The United States said Sunday there was “very little doubt” Syrian forces had used chemical weapons on civilians, and dismissed an offer by Damascus for a UN team to view the attack site.
The comments marked a significant escalation of a showdown over the attack outside the Syrian capital that killed up to 1,300 people last week, and came as Washington appeared to be positioning for possible military action.
Syrian President Bashir al-Assad said that the US statement on the matter was illogical and politically motivated, telling Russian daily newspaper Izvestia that any US intervention would be doomed to fail.
"Failure awaits the United States as in all previous wars it has unleashed, starting with Vietnam and up to the present day," Assad told the daily.
Obama’s position evolving
Officials said President Barack Obama, who held crisis talks Saturday with top aides, would make an “informed decision” about how to respond to an “indiscriminate” chemical weapons attack.
An official told AFP that based on the reported number of victims and their symptoms from US and foreign intelligence, “there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident”.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Washington had noted that Syria had offered to let UN inspectors view the site of the alleged attack on Monday, but said it was too little, too late, and that the evidence available at the site “has been significantly corrupted” due to the delay.
A US diplomatic offensive led by Secretary of State John Kerry, comments coming from the White House and signs the Pentagon is positioning ships closer to Syria fueled an impression that Obama may be getting ready to jettison his antipathy to new Middle Eastern entanglements and to order limited military action.
Kerry has spent days on the phone with Washington’s foreign partners.
On Sunday, Kerry spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as well as his British, French, Canadian and Russian counterparts, a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In all of the calls, Kerry “stressed that if the Syrian regime wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in this incident, it would have stopped shelling the area and granted immediate access five days ago,” the official said.
Kerry “made clear that ... there is very little doubt that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident,” based on intelligence reports and information from US international partners.
Kerry also reiterated that Obama “is studying the facts and will be making an informed decision about the responsible way forward,” the official said.
Russia ‘concerned’ by shifting US position
Russia is very concerned that Washington may respond militarily to a suspected chemical weapons attack by Syria’s government, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged restraint when talking to his US counterpart, the ministry said on Monday.
“The minister (Lavrov) stressed that the official announcements from Washington in recent days about the readiness of US armed forces to ‘intervene’ in the Syrian conflict have been received in Moscow with deep concern,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to a conversation on Sunday.
The United Nations meanwhile said that its team would start a probe on Monday into what happened in the area, which is under rebel control.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government said the visit would prove that claims by the opposition that chemical weapons were used against defenseless civilians, including children, were “lies.”
The opposition says 1,300 people were killed. Doctors Without Borders has said 355 people died in hospital alone from “neurotoxic” symptoms.
French President François Hollande told Obama on Sunday in a phone call that “everything was consistent” with the conclusion that Damascus was behind last Wednesday’s suspected chemical attack.
“The two presidents agreed to stay in close contact to arrive at a joint response to this unprecedented aggression,” the French government said in a statement.
Russia however reacted to US maneuvering by warning Washington against making a “tragic mistake.”
Polls show Americans are wary of getting into another war in the Middle East.
But Obama’s credibility is on the line after he said last year that the use of large-scale chemical weapons in Syria would cross a US “red line.”
Washington may also want to send a signal that weapons of mass destruction, like chemical arms, cannot be used in Syria, or elsewhere, with impunity.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-08-26