US ambassador to Israel: There will be a strong and serious response to Syria
Daniel Shapiro tells Israel Radio that while U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to decide exactly how the U.S. will respond to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons, "there will be a strong and serious response" to it.
Eli Leon, Dan Lavie, The Associated Press, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff
Waiting for U.S. President Barack Obama's orders: American F-15 fighter jets
Photo credit: AP
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro
Photo credit: Yehoshua Yosef
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro told Israel Radio Thursday that while U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to decide exactly how the U.S. will respond to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against civilians, "there will be a strong and serious response" to it. He said that Obama was consulting with Washington's allies and Congress on the matter.
Obama on Wednesday declared unequivocally that Washington had "concluded" that the Syrian government carried out the deadly Aug. 21 attack, but U.S. intelligence officials said questions remained about whether it could be linked to Syrian President Bashar Assad or high officials in his government.
As the U.N. Security Council huddled Wednesday over the crisis in Syria, a senior U.S. official was quoted by NBC News as saying that the plans to strike the Syrian regime as punishment for the chemical attack were "past the point of no return" and that airstrikes were expected to begin soon.
U.S. defense officials were quoted Tuesday as saying that an attack was possible as early as Thursday night, and that the campaign would be limited to three days.
The Security Council met to discuss a resolution drafted by Britain that would condemn the use of chemicals and authorize "necessary measures" to protect Syrian civilians. Russia and China, which have veto power on the council, warned the U.S. and the U.K. "not to bypass the U.N." and strike Syria. In a dramatic move, the Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the U.N. walked out of the meeting in protest about an hour after it started.
U.S. officials said the council was unable to reach a consensus on Syrian action because Russia continued to block any resolution. "This issue is dead. The Russians won’t budge," one U.S. official told NBC News.
Obama did not present any direct evidence to back up his assertion, nor did he confirm that a decision to strike the rogue regime had been made, saying only he was "still evaluating possible military retaliation." He vowed that any American response would send a "strong signal" to Assad.
"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried out [the attack]," Obama said during an interview with "NewsHour" on PBS. "And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences."
Obama said that while the U.S. and its allies "have not yet made a decision [to strike Syria], the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place ... Nobody disputes -- or hardly anybody disputes -- that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations. We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed ... chemical weapons of that sort."
Obama administration officials said the U.S. would take action against the Syrian government even without the backing of allies or the United Nations because diplomatic paralysis must not prevent a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital last week.
The CIA and the Pentagon have been working to gather more human intelligence tying Assad to the attack, relying on the intelligence services of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the officials said.
Obama stressed he was not seeking a lengthy, open-ended conflict in Syria, indicating that any U.S. response would be limited in scope. But he argued that Syria's use of chemical weapons not only violated international norms, but threatened "America's core self-interest."
"We do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable," he said. "If we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, 'Stop doing this,' this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term."
Laying out a legal justification for a U.S. response, Obama said Syria was violating the Geneva Protocols, an agreement signed in 1925 in the wake of World War I to ban the use of chemical gases. The White House has also cited the Chemical Weapons Convention, a 1992 agreement that builds on the Geneva Protocols by prohibiting the development and stockpiling of chemical weapons.
Syria is a party to the original Geneva accord, but not the latter chemical weapons agreement.
Syria, which sits on one of the world's largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, has denied the West's charges, saying it was the rebels who used chemical weapons on civilians to "fool the West" and force it to intervene in the civil war, which has been raging in the country since March 2011.
Commenting on the deadlocked Security Council meeting, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf signaled that the U.S. will not wait for U.N. action. "We cannot be held up in responding by Russia's intransigence -- continued intransigence at the United Nations. That, quite frankly, the situation is so serious that it demands a response," she said.
U.K. wants solid proof, France 'ready to punish' Assad
British Prime Minister David Cameron meanwhile, promised his parliament he would not go to war until a U.N. chemical weapons team on the ground in Syria files its findings, pushing the U.K.'s involvement in any potential U.S.-led strike against Assad until next week. Cameron called an emergency meeting of Parliament on Thursday to vote on whether to endorse international action against Syria.
Even so, British Foreign Secretary William Hague suggested that U.S. military action need not be constrained by Britain. "The United States are able to make their own decisions," he told reporters late Wednesday, jut after speaking with Secretary of State John Kerry.
While the parliament still has to vote on the matter, Britain's National Security Council unanimously backed a military campaign against Syria.
"The NSC agreed unanimously that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was unacceptable -- and the world should not stand by," Cameron said via Twitter.
A U.K. government source was quoted by the British media as saying, "There was discussion at the NSC about what it would mean for the U.K.'s role in the world if others acted and we didn't … Ministers spoke about the need to be clear about the risks of inaction." The source said there was an awareness that any action carried certain risks.
French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday his country was "ready to punish" whoever was behind the attack, and had decided to increase military support for Syria's main opposition.
France said that its navy had deployed a destroyer, the Paul Chevalier, to the Mediterranean, where it would join the international fleet already positioned near Syria's waters.
The French battleship will join five U.S. destroyers, and two American and one British submarine already in position in the Mediterranean. Pentagon officials confirmed that the USS Barry, the USS Mahan, the USS Ramage, the USS Gravely and the USS Stout were ready to launch Tomahawk missiles at targets in Syria if Obama gave the order.
Also on Wednesday, and ahead of the possible strike, Turkey placed its armed forces on alert to guard against threats from Syria, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
"We are now at a more alert position ... Turkey will take whatever measures necessary within the framework of its own strategic interests," Davutoglu told reporters.
"The Turkish armed forces have the mandate to take every measure against any security threat from Syria or elsewhere ... and retaliate within the rules of engagement."
"We are in constant negotiations. All of these options are being evaluated," said Davutoglu, who has said Turkey would be ready to take part in an international coalition against Assad, even outside the auspices of the U.N.
"What's important is that a position should be adopted ... that will not push Syria into further uncertainty," he said.