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Obama says no decision yet to attack Syria

© AFP

Video by Philip CROWTHER

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-08-29

US President Barack Obama is convinced that the Syrian government is responsible for using chemical weapons against rebel targets - but said Wednesday he has yet to make the decision to launch attacks on the Damascus regime.

US President Barack Obama said late Wednesday he was convinced the Damascus regime was behind two recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria – but had yet to make the decision to launch attacks on forces loyal to Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.

Obama, who has warned that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line," said Washington had definitively concluded that the Assad regime was to blame for last week's attack.

Asked how close he was to ordering a US strike, expected to start with cruise missile raids, Obama told PBS NewsHour: "I have not made a decision."

But he warned that US action would be designed to send a "shot across the bow" to convince Syria it had "better not do it again."

He admitted that the limited strikes envisioned by the White House would not stop the killing of civilians in Syria but added that he believed getting involved in a civil war that has already killed 100,000 people would not help the situation.

The US leader, who wants to seal a legacy of ending foreign wars, argued that it was vital to send a clear message not just to Syria, but around the world.

"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.

Russian intransigence at the UN

Earlier, Washington bluntly signalled that a UN Security Council resolution proposed by Britain that could have given a legal basis for an assault was going nowhere because of Russian opposition.

"We see no avenue forward, given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful Council action on Syria," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

"We cannot be held up in responding by Russia's continued intransigence at the United Nations, and quite frankly the situation is so serious that it demands a response," Harf said.

Political uproar in London, meanwhile, cast doubt on whether the UK would join American military action to punish the Damascus regime.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to pledge he would not order military action until the report by UN inspectors, still on the ground in Syria testing victims of the alleged attack, has been published. The UN says its team needs at least two more days before it can publish its report.

Cameron plans to put his case to parliament on Thursday. But with a majority in doubt, a second vote, possibly early next week, will have to take place before British forces can join the fray.

White House officials would not immediately say whether Washington would wait for Britain before launching any military action.

Syria blames ‘terrorists’

The United States, Britain and France blame Assad's forces for the attack using chemical weapons, which are banned under an international convention.

The Syrian government has blamed the attack on "terrorist" rebels. Its UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, said Wednesday that Syrian soldiers had been gassed in three new incidents near Damascus since last week.

Russia, which has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions aiming to increase pressure on Assad, has maintained its support for his government.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague that the international community must wait for the UN inquiry to be completed before taking any further steps, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

In another conversation with UN Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Lavrov said Western military strikes against Assad would destabilize the entire Middle East.

The Syrian government has meanwhile defiantly shrugged off the growing military threat.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halki accused the West of inventing excuses to intervene and warned that the country would become the "graveyard of the invaders."

"Western countries, starting with the United States, are inventing fake scenarios and fictitious alibis to intervene militarily in Syria," he was quoted as saying by state television.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-08-29

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