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France backs US on Syria action

Source BBC News@ tienganhvui.com




Jeremy Bowen reports from Damascus: ''You could sense the tension in the face of what feels here like an impending attack''




The French president has said a vote by UK MPs against involvement in military strikes on Syria has not changed France's resolve to take firm action.


Francois Hollande said all options were being considered, and that a strike within days was not ruled out.


His comments came after US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Washington would continue to seek a coalition for possible military action.


Washington accuses Damascus of using chemical weapons - which it denies.


Meanwhile UN inspectors investigating suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria were seen leaving their hotel, apparently to visit a hospital in a government-controlled area of Damascus.


The experts are due to finish their work later on Friday and give their preliminary findings to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the weekend.



Analysis





It's a sign for the Syrian government that the political consensus among powerful Western countries that was building about mounting an attack on Syrian regime targets has fractured.


What they're trying to do is erode that front was against them and they'll score this up as a victory.


But no matter what people's political views here, the prospect of the most powerful military force in the world and some of its allies of attacking this city, maybe in the course of the next few days, is clearly daunting, and people are trying to lay in supplies.



No constraint

In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, Mr Hollande said the UK vote made no difference to his support for action against the Syrian government.


"Each country is sovereign to participate or not in an operation. That is valid for Britain as it is for France," he said.


Mr Hollande added that while all options for intervention were on the table, no decision would be taken without the conditions to justify it.


However, he did not rule out the possibility that military action could be taken before next Wednesday, when the French parliament is due to debate the issue.


Correspondents say that, unlike the British prime minister, the French president is not constrained by the need for parliamentary approval.


Meanwhile the German government has ruled out participation in any military action.


'Beyond doubt'


Ian Pannell: The victims "arrived like the walking dead".



In a statement on Thursday, the White House said President Barack Obama's decision-making "will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States".


It stressed that the president "believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States".



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Britain has tended to march in lockstep with the US and this rejection of President Barack Obama's argument will leave bruises”



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And in an intelligence briefing to senior members of Congress on the case for launching military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops, State Secretary John Kerry said Washington could not be held to the foreign policy of others.


Eliot Engel, the top Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters after the briefing that other Obama administration officials had said that it was "beyond a doubt that chemical weapons were used, and used intentionally by the Assad regime".


Mr Engel added that officials had cited evidence including "intercepted communications from high-level Syrian officials".



Models for possible intervention



  • Iraq 1991: US-led global military coalition; explicit mandate from UN Security Council to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait

  • Balkans 1990s: US arms supplied to anti-Serb resistance in defiance of UN-mandated embargo; later US-led air campaign against Serb paramilitaries

  • Somalia 1992-93: UN authorised international force for humanitarian reasons; US military involvement culminated in disaster and pullout

  • Libya 2011: France and UK sought UN authorisation for humanitarian operation; air offensive continued until fall of Gaddafi




One of the Syrian officials overheard seemed to suggest the chemical weapons attack was more devastating than was intended, officials were quoted as saying by the New York Times.


At least 355 people are reported to have died in a suspected chemical attack in the Ghouta area - on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus - on 21 August.


In Thursday's statement, the White House also stressed that it would "continue to consult" with the UK over Syria, describing London as "one of our closest allies and friends".


The statement came after British members of parliament rejected the principle of military action against Damascus in a 285-272 vote.


Shortly after the surprise result, British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed to the BBC's Newsnight programme that Britain would not be involved in any military action.


The defeat of the government motion comes as a potential blow to the authority of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had already watered down his proposal in response to the opposition's objections, correspondents say.


More than 100,000 people are estimated to have died since the conflict erupted in Syria in March 2011, and the conflict has produced at least 1.7 million refugees.


Map: Forces which could be used in strikes against Syria


Forces which could be used against Syria:

  • Four US destroyers - USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan - are in the eastern Mediterranean, equipped with cruise missiles

  • Cruise missiles could also be launched from submarines, including a British Trafalgar class boat. HMS Tireless was reportedly sighted in Gibraltar at the weekend

  • Airbases at Incirlik and Izmir in Turkey, and in Jordan, could be used to carry out strikes

  • Two aircraft carriers - USS Nimitz and USS Harry S Truman are in the wider region

  • The Royal Navy's response force task group- which includes helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose and HMS Westminster - is in the region on a previously-scheduled deployment

  • RAF Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus could also be used

  • French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is currently in Toulon in the western Mediterranean

  • French Raffale and Mirage aircraft can also operate from Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE.





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