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Kerry: Military option in Syria 'still on the table'

September 16, 2013|By Henry Chu and Kim Willsher
  • French President Francois Hollande, left, greets U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris.
French President Francois Hollande, left, greets U.S. Secretary of State… (Fred Dufour / AFP/Getty…)

PARIS -- The U.S., Britain and France pledged Monday to push for a strong, enforceable United Nations resolution demanding that Syria give up its chemical weapons, and insisted that “all options must remain on the table” if Damascus fails to comply.

The three nations, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, want international military intervention to remain a possibility if Syrian President Bashar Assad drags his feet or refuses to abide by the resolution. But China and Russia, which also hold veto power on the council, are unlikely to agree.

“If the Assad regime believes this is not enforceable and we are not serious, they will play games,” U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry warned. “We’re going to work hard to have a resolution that is as strong and forceful as possible.”

Kerry spoke Monday morning alongside the foreign ministers of Britain and France after a three-way meeting here to capitalize on the diplomatic momentum of recent days toward disarming Syria of its chemical weapons.

The three top diplomats said it was important to have U.N. backing for the plan outlined by the U.S. and Russia for Syria to turn over its entire chemical arsenal by the middle of next year. Officials estimate that the Syrian government possesses more than 1,000 tons of nerve agents and other deadly substances.

“It is the Assad regime that has stockpiled these weapons ... so the pressure is on them to comply with this agreement in full,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. “The world must be prepared to hold them to account if they don’t, and our three countries are certainly determined to do so.”

“We want concrete, verifiable acts,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius added. “All options must stay on the table if things are not done.”

The U.N. resolution will be proposed under a rubric that allows for punishment if Syria does not obey.

But Russia, which backs Assad, favors such actions as economic sanctions, whereas the U.S., Britain and France want armed intervention to remain an option. Intense debate at the U.N. over the resolution’s exact wording is expected.

“If Assad fails to comply with the terms of this framework, make no mistake, we are all agreed -- and that includes Russia -- that there will be consequences,” Kerry said. “Should diplomacy fail, the military option is still on the table.”

The meeting in Paris came hours before the expected release of a report by U.N. inspectors into what Western officials say was a deadly gassing of a rebel-held Damascus neighborhood by forces loyal to Assad last month. The report is expected to cite clear evidence of a chemical attack and to suggest strongly, though not say outright, that Syrian government security forces were responsible.

Kerry, Hague and Fabius said they were committed to trying to convene another peace conference to end Syria’s civil war, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives. But putting together such a gathering has been hampered by disagreements over who would attend and whether Assad can play a role in Syria’s future, which the U.S. rules out.

Kerry said that giving up Syria’s chemical arsenal should not be interpreted as recognition of Assad as the country’s rightful leader.

“Nothing in what we’ve done is meant to offer any notion to Assad that there's some legitimacy to his process, that he has some extended period as a leader, so-called,” Kerry said. “We make it clear that Assad has lost all legitimacy ... to govern this country.”


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Chu reported from London and Willsher from Paris.

Twitter: @HenryHChu

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