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Kerry woos sceptical French over Syria strikes

© Photo: AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-08

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) made an impassioned plea for a military intervention in Syria during a weekend visit to Paris aimed at swaying a sceptical French public to back President François Hollande's position.

US Secretary of State John Kerry launched a charm offensive during a weekend visit to Paris aimed at convincing a sceptical French public to support President François Hollande’s commitment to join a military intervention in Syria.

“This is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter,” said Kerry at a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, in Paris on Saturday evening.

In a clear attempt to sway the French people, Kerry outlined the history of US-French relations in his eight-minute statement delivered in fluent French. "When he visited General de Gaulle in Paris more than 50 years ago, President Kennedy said, and I quote,

'The relationship between France and the United States is crucially important for the preservation of liberty in the whole world,'" he said.

Fabius reciprocated by speaking in English, telling reporters that there was "wide and growing support" to take action on Syria.

"Right now, seven of the eight countries in the G8 share our opinion on a strong reaction and 12 countries of the G20 also share this opinion," he said.

France has been Washington’s staunchest European backer for punitive strikes in Syria following a British parliamentary vote not to join any military intervention.

“This diplomatic tour of John Kerry is directed at domestic public opinion within the relevant states,” noted Philip Golub, from the American University of Paris. “This is not necessarily directed at establishing legal foundations for a strike as convincing American and French public opinion that these strikes are actually required at this time and will obtain some political results on the ground in Syria.”

Kerry repeated his message during his meeting with Arab League officials in Paris on Sunday, putting forward the case that a growing number of countries support punitive strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime following the August 21 chemical attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus.

Speaking to reporters after meeting key Arab foreign ministers, Kerry said they were leaning towards supporting the G20 statement calling for a strong international response.

"All of us agreed – not one dissenter – that Assad's deplorable use of chemical weapons, which we know killed hundreds of innocent people... this crosses an international, global red line," said Kerry at a joint press conference with his Qatari counterpart Khalid al-Attiyah.

The EU gives Kerry a diplomatic boost

Kerry's Paris trip came on the heels of a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Lithuania, where he said the number of countries ready to take military action was now in the "double digits".

"I was encouraged by the statement the EU gave," he said. "It's a very powerful statement, this is growing, not receding, in terms of the global sense of outrage."

Earlier Saturday, the 28-member EU bloc released a joint statement acknowledging that the August 21 attack, which killed more than 1,400 people, appears to have been conducted by the Assad regime and calling for “strong action” in Syria.

The statement however mirrored Hollande’s position that any military intervention should be held off until UN weapons inspectors have published a report on their findings. Hollande has said he expects the report to be ready by next weekend.

But Kerry made clear that Washington had not decided to postpone a decision on military action until the release of the UN report, though several EU ministers said he had pledged to make their case to Obama.

Obama warns of dangers of turning ‘a blind eye’

In his weekly address, US President Barack Obama warned of the dangers of turning "a blind eye" to chemical attacks.

"I call on members of Congress, from both parties, to come together and stand up for the kind of world we want to live in," the president said after returning from a G20 summit in St Petersburg, Russia that deadlocked over the response to the Syria crisis.

Obama has asked for Congress to authorise strikes on Syria. The legislature reconvenes Monday and the president is set to address the nation Tuesday about the US response.

Faced with a war-weary US public and little international support, Obama is bracing for an uphill battle to convince American lawmakers to back military action against Assad's regime.

According to a Washington Post survey, 224 of the current 433 House members were either "no" or "leaning no" on military action as of Friday. A large number, 184, were undecided, with just 25 backing a strike.

In France, the sole EU nation determined to join a US-led strike, the latest public opinion poll showed 68 percent of people opposed to military action, an increase of nine percentage points since late August.

Date created : 2013-09-08

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