ShareThis Page

EU favors no military action yet

| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

VILNIUS, Lithuania — The European Union called on Saturday for a “clear and strong” international response to what it said is “strong evidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad's government was responsible for a major chemical weapons attack two weeks ago near Damascus.

But the EU statement stopped far short of endorsing a U.S. military strike —something that American officials acknowledged many of the organization's 28 members do not support.

EU foreign ministers, after listening to Secretary of State John Kerry explain the U.S. position on punishing Syria with a limited strike, indicated that no action should take place until U.N. chemical weapons inspectors release their report at least two weeks from now.

A similar delay was advocated on Friday by France's President François Hollande, whose government had said until last week that it was “ready” to participate in a U.S.-led military strike against Syria.

The European Union said it “hopes the U.N. preliminary report can be released as soon as possible and welcomes” Hollande's preference to await its results.

Kerry, speaking in a brief appearance here with Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, who hosted the meeting, expressed gratitude for “support for efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable for what they have done.”

While U.N. evidence of a chemical attack may allow some Europeans to feel more comfortable about a U.S. strike and nudge public opinion toward supporting it, others say no attack can take place unless the United Nations authorizes the use of force — a development that remains unlikely. China and Russia, Assad's main military and political backer, have indicated they will continue to veto any such U.N. Security Council resolution.

Linkevicius, echoing the uneasiness voiced by many European governments about military action without U.N. authorization, said in his appearance with Kerry that “those responsible should be brought to justice; we will make full use of the United Nations.”

But neither he nor others who spoke at the conference spelled out what action they would find acceptable, short of a military strike and in the absence of U.N. agreement.

“Obviously, there's a diversity of opinion in the EU,” said a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called military action “ill-considered” and warned of “serious and tragic consequences” if it were carried out. He reiterated U.N. insistence that only the Security Council could authorize a military strike against a member state.

The Obama administration has said that its own intelligence has proved that the attack, which it said killed more than 1,400 people, took place and that Assad's forces were responsible. It has described the U.N. report, which addresses only the occurrence of a gas attack and not who launched it, as irrelevant.

Videos released

In an effort by those in Congress who back a strike to convince those opposed of the need for a military response, the Senate Intelligence Committee released to the public 13 videos showing victims of last month's alleged chemical attacks in Syria.

The videos detail what appears to be victims of the chemical attacks convulsing and foaming at the mouth. It includes graphic images of children.

But the majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in Congress are lining up against President Obama's plan for military action in Syria, The Hill reported.

Of the 16 veterans of those conflicts, only Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Tom Cotton of Arkansas have publicly supported the White House plan.

In the EU meeting, the State Department official said, Kerry “made very clear that the United States has not made a decision to wait” for the inspectors' report before deciding on a military strike. But that time frame appears increasingly immaterial, in any case, because the congressional approval President Obama is seeking may take even longer, if it is ever obtained.

The Senate may vote this week on a resolution authorizing the use of military force. In the House, where only a small minority so far has said publicly it would support the measure, it remains the subject of sharp debate.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.