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Europe

EU says Syria gas attack appears to point to Assad

© afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-07

EU foreign ministers meeting in Lithuania Saturday agreed that the August 21 chemical attack in Damascus appears to have been conducted by the Syrian regime, but said that military strikes must await a UN weapons inspectors' report.

European Union foreign ministers agreed that the August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus appears to have been conducted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, providing a diplomatic boost for the US effort to win international support for military strikes on Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Lithuania, where EU foreign ministers were meeting on Saturday, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the available intelligence “seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for the attack''.

Ashton’s comments came at the end of a meeting between EU foreign ministers and US Secretary of State John Kerry a day after the G20 summit in Russia ended with no international consensus on a Syrian intervention.

The latest statement ended days of divisions within the EU and gave Kerry a diplomatic boost on the first stop of his four-nation tour to try to win European and Arab support for a military intervention.

The disunity in EU ranks was apparent on Friday at the end of the G20 summit, when Germany refrained from signing a statement blaming the Syrian government for the August 21 chemical attack.

Saturday's joint EU statement was careful to note that any military action against Assad’s regime should be held off until UN weapons inspectors have published a report on their findings.

The statement mirrored the position expressed by French President François Hollande at the end of the G20 summit in Russia last week.

Hollande backtracks, catches his foreign minister off-guard

Speaking to reporters in St. Petersburg on Friday, Hollande declared that before committing France to military action, he would wait for UN weapons inspectors to issue their report.

“There was never a question that France would intervene by itself,” Hollande told reporters at the end of the summit. “It makes sense to wait for Congress and the inspectors’ report. Once those pieces of information are in hand, I will address the nation and I will make a decision.”

Following the British parliamentary vote against any involvement in a military intervention, Hollande has been the strongest European voice calling for punitive strikes against Assad. His watered-down statement on Friday raised eyebrows in Washington, where US President Barack Obama has been pushing his case for an intervention ahead of next week’s Congressional vote.

France was one of four European nations – including Britain, Italy and Spain – that signed the statement at the G20 meeting calling for a "strong international response" to the August 21 chemical attack.

Eleven nations signed the statement – including Australia, Canada, France, Britain, Italy, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the US.

All but Spain are members of the G20. That left 10 G20 member nations who did not sign up to the statement – including the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries.

Amid bitter international divisions over the Syria issue, the Obama administration has focused on trying to achieve support from the EU and the Arab League.

Kerry’s four-nation European tour was originally scheduled to bolster European and Arab support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But one of the most intractable Middle East issues has once again taken a backseat as the Syrian crisis dominates international attention.

Kerry's whistlestop European tour includes a visit to France, followed by a trip to London, where he is due to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before returning to Washington for a crucial week in the Obama administration’s build-up to a possible military intervention in Syria.

Date created : 2013-09-07

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