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Middle east

Biden says ‘no doubt’ Assad behind chemical attack

Video by Philip CROWTHER

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-08-28

US Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday there is no doubt that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for the “heinous” use of chemical weapons on civilians in a deadly attack outside Damascus on August 21.

The groundwork for military intervention in Syria was laid out Tuesday by US Vice President Joe Biden, who for the first time said that Bashar al-Assad’s government was clearly responsible for the August 21 chemical weapons attack against civilians and that it must be held accountable for the “heinous” action.

Biden’s comments make him the highest-ranking US official to accuse the Syrian regime over the large-scale attack, which is thought to have killed hundreds.

“There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime,” Biden said in a speech to the American Legion, a veterans’ group, in Houston.

“Those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women and children should and must be held accountable,” Biden said. He also said Assad has blocked UN investigators from the site and has been bombing it for days.

The White House said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had not yet decided how the United States would respond to the attack, which occurred in a suburb of Damascus that is held by rebels fighting to oust Assad. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that American forces in the region were “ready to go” if Obama gave the order.

The British military was also drafting plans. Prime Minister David Cameron, who spoke to Obama on Tuesday for the second time in four days, recalled parliament for a debate on Syria on Thursday. Cameron said any strikes would be “specific” so as not to drag the allies deeper into Syria’s civil war.

France also moved to back the use of force in Syria on Tuesday and Australia, a close US ally and incoming chair of the United Nations Security Council, on Wednesday endorsed possible action against Syria even if the security council fails to agree.

The White House has promised to provide declassified evidence this week to prove that last week’s chemical attack was the work of regime forces.

Russia, Iran, China stand ground

The increasing likelihood of action within days was met with defiance in Damascus, with regime officials pledging to fight any attack with "surprise" measures, while Syrian allies Russia and Iran warned of dire consequences.

Both Russia and China accuse Western powers of using human rights complaints, such as in Libya, to meddle in sovereign states’ affairs.

Syria vows to defend itself

Russia, Assad’s main arms supplier, has opposes military action from the outset suggested this week that rebel forces may have released the poison gas.

China’s state news agency recalled on Tuesday how flawed intelligence was used to justify the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, while the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, said the United States and its allies were seeking to use the issue to pursue regime change in Syria illegally.

Firm opposition from permanent members of the Security Council all but rules out a UN mandate of the kind that gave legal backing to NATO air strikes that helped Libyan rebels unseat Muammar Gaddafi two years ago.

“Our preference, everyone’s preference, would be for action, a response, under United Nations auspices,” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, whose country takes over the rotating chair of the Security Council on Sunday, told reporters.

“But if that’s not possible, the sheer horror of a government using chemical weapons against its people, using chemical weapons in any circumstances, mandates a response.”

‘Ready to Punish’

In Britain, Cameron told reporters: “This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict. It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn’t stand idly by.”

In France, which played a major role in Libya in 2011, President François Hollande said he was “ready to punish” Assad for using the chemical weapons, citing a 2005 UN provision for international action to protect civilians from their own governments.

Similar arguments were used by NATO to bomb Serbia, a Russian ally, in 1999 after the killing of civilians in Kosovo.

The precise timing of possible military action remained unclear, but it is certain to wait for an official US intelligence report expected to blame Assad’s government for the chemical attack. The findings, considered merely a formality at this point, will be released this week, US officials said.

“The White House is now preparing public opinion which is still largely against US military intervention in Syria,” FRANCE 24’s Philip Crowther reported from Washington. “Any announcement we see from now on from Washington will come from the president himself, because everybody else has spoken,” he added.

Obama will go ahead with a speech on Wednesday at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I have a dream” speech.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-08-28

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