France ‘regrets’ US backpedalling on Syrian air strikes

Photo: AFP

France "regrets" that the US did not carry out threatened air strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as punishment for its use of chemical weapons, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France 24 on Tuesday.


He also alleged that there was evidence Syria was still using chemical weapons.

"We regret it because we think it would have changed lots of things ... but what is done is done, and we're not going to rewrite history," Fabius told a press conference on an official visit to Washington.

He cited US President Barack Obama’s “red line” pledge to order a harsh response if Assad used toxic chemicals against his own people, but said Paris could not stand alone once both the US and Britain had ruled out air strikes.

“It was out of the question for France to act alone,” Fabius said.

Fabius: 'France was ready to act'

Obama had threatened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime with military action after it emerged that sarin gas had been used in an August 21 attack in a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus that killed hundreds.

But the US ultimately backed down and a diplomatic agreement was brokered instead in which the Assad government agreed to hand over its chemical weapons and destroy production sites.

But France’s top diplomat told FRANCE 24 that the Assad government had not stopped the use of chemical weapons. “We have information showing that the Syrian regime has fired barrels of powder with chlorine inside from helicopters at least 14 times in recent weeks,” Fabius said.

The problem, he continued, is that chlorine is a chemical agent that evaporates, and is therefore difficult to trace. “This proves…that the regime is really abominable,” Fabius said.

While Assad has handed over some 92 percent of his chemical weapons stockpile for destruction, "we have lots of elements which lead us to believe that a certain number of these chemical weapons have been hidden," Fabius said.

Assad accused of new gas attacks

Fabius’s comments came the same day that a humans right group said it has evidence that “strongly suggests” Assad’s forces used chlorine gas in attacks on three northern Syrian towns in mid-April of this year.

Human Rights Watch said Syrian government helicopters had dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas on the towns of Keferzita, al-Teman’a and Telmans, killing 11 people and affecting hundreds of others.

Fabius: 'Regime fired barrels of chlorine'

“Syria’s apparent use of chlorine gas as a weapon – not to mention targeting of civilians – is a plain violation of international law,” said Nadim Houry, the organisation’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

“This is one more reason for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which monitors the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, sent a team to Syria this month to investigate claims the regime is still using chlorine gas.

Top UN envoy to Syria resigns

Although most of Syria’s declared chemical weapons have now been removed or destroyed, the country has missed several interim deadlines for relinquishing its toxic stockpile and Western officials are concerned about discrepancies and ambiguities in Syria’s inventory declaration that could leave some of its arsenal intact.

Damascus’s poison gas programme was to be completely destroyed by June 30 but that deadline is now unlikely to be met, diplomats say, partly because it will take at least two months for a US ship to destroy the chemical agents at sea.

Syria was not required to declare its stockpile of chlorine as part of the disarmament deal, however, as the gas is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes.

Later Tuesday, Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN’s Arab-League envoy to Syria, announced he would resign on May 31 after trying for almost two years to “overcome impossible odds” to end the civil war.

Reporting from New York, FRANCE 24’s correspondent Jessica Le Masurier said Brahimi had “had enough” after Assad ignored his efforts to restart Geneva negotiations by calling presidential elections for June 3.

“As he announced his resignation (he said) he deeply regretted that things have gone so badly and that he was really sad about leaving Syria in such a bad state,” she said.


Fabius: 'Taboos of international life are being broken'

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