UK ministers back action to deter Syrian chemical weapon use

British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers on unspecified action in Syria to deter chemical weapons use. (Reuters)
Updated 13 April 2018
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UK ministers back action to deter Syrian chemical weapon use

  • May recalled the ministers from their Easter holiday for the meeting in Downing Street to discuss Britain’s response
  • Trump and his national security team were continuing to assess intelligence and speak with allies

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers to take unspecified action with the United States and France to deter further use of chemical weapons by Syria after a suspected poison gas attack on civilians.
After warning Russia on Wednesday of imminent military action, US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was holding meetings on Syria and expected to make decisions “fairly soon.”
The White House said later that Trump and his national security team were continuing to assess intelligence and speak with allies, and that no final decisions had been made.
Russia has warned the West against attacking its Syrian ally President Bashar Assad, who is also supported by Iran, and says there is no evidence of a chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma near Damascus.
May recalled the ministers from their Easter holiday for the meeting in Downing Street to discuss Britain’s response to what she has cast as a barbaric attack that cannot go unchallenged.
May told her senior ministers on Thursday that the attack in Douma showed a “deeply concerning” erosion of international legal norms barring the use of chemical weapons.
“Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime,” a spokeswoman for the prime minister said in a statement after the meeting.
Ministers also agreed that May should continue to work with the United States and France to come up with the right response.
The statement made no specific reference to military action.
Later, May’s office said she had spoken with Trump by telephone, and that the two had agreed it was vital to challenge Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and that they would continue to work closely together to do so.
The rising tension over the Douma attack demonstrates the volatile nature of the Syrian civil war, which started in March 2011 as an anti-Assad uprising but is now a proxy conflict involving a number of world and regional powers and a myriad of insurgent groups.
The attack was first reported by Syrian rebel group Jaish Al-Islam on Saturday. Inspectors with the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, are due to investigate the incident.

US vs Russia?
The BBC said May was ready to give the go-ahead for Britain to take part in action led by the United States without seeking prior approval from parliament. Downing Street spokesmen repeatedly declined to comment on that report.
“The chemical weapons attack that took place on Saturday in Douma in Syria was a shocking and barbaric act,” May told reporters on Wednesday. “All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible.”
May is not obliged to win parliament’s approval, but a non-binding constitutional convention to do so has been established since a 2003 vote on joining the US-led invasion of Iraq.
It has been observed in subsequent military deployments in Libya and Iraq and many British lawmakers and voters are deeply skeptical of deepening involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said parliament should be consulted before May approved military action.


“Just imagine the scenario if an American missile shoots down a Russian plane, or vice-a-versa — where do we go from there?” Corbyn said.
A YouGov poll published on Thursday showed just one in five British voters supported a missile strike on Syria. The poll showed 43 percent of voters opposed such a strike and 34 percent did not know what should be done.
Britain has been launching air strikes in Syria from its military base in Cyprus, but only against targets linked to the Islamic State militant group.
Parliament voted down British military action against Assad’s government in 2013, in an embarrassment for May’s predecessor, David Cameron. That then deterred the US administration of Barack Obama from similar action.
The war plans of British leaders have been complicated in recent years by the memory of Britain’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq after asserting — wrongly, as it later turned out — that President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

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US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but will not give aid

Updated 18 December 2018
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US accepts Assad staying in Syria — but will not give aid

  • James Jeffrey said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war
  • Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay

WASHINGTON: The US said Monday it was no longer seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad but renewed warnings it would not fund reconstruction unless the regime is “fundamentally different.”

James Jeffrey, the US special representative in Syria, said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war, estimating that some 100,000 armed opposition fighters remained in Syria.

“We want to see a regime that is fundamentally different. It’s not regime change —  we’re not trying to get rid of Assad,” Jeffrey said at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

Estimating that Syria would need $300-400 billion to rebuild, Jeffrey warned that Western powers and international financial institutions would not commit funds without a change of course.

“There is a strong readiness on the part of Western nations not to ante up money for that disaster unless we have some kind of idea that the government is ready to compromise and thus not create yet another horror in the years ahead,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama had called for Assad to go, although he doubted the wisdom of a robust US intervention in the complex Syrian war. and kept a narrow military goal of defeating the Daesh extremist group.

President Donald Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in October that the US would not provide “one single dollar” for Syria’s reconstruction if Iran stays.

Jeffrey also called for the ouster of Iranian forces, whose presence is strongly opposed by neighboring Israel, although he said the US accepted that Tehran would maintain some diplomatic role in the country.

Jeffrey also said that the US wanted a Syria that does not wage chemical weapons attacks or torture its own citizens.

He acknowledged, however, that the US may not find an ally anytime soon in Syria, saying: “It doesn’t have to be a regime that we Americans would embrace as, say, qualifying to join the European Union if the European Union would take Middle Eastern countries.”