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French parliament split on Syria strike, PM reiterates Paris ‘won’t act alone’

Published time: September 04, 2013 11:57
Edited time: September 04, 2013 21:57

The French Senate (AFP Photo/Jacques Demarthon)

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France’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that a lack of response to alleged chemical weapons use in Syria could threaten security in the region. However, French parliament remains split on whether military action is in the country’s best interest.

French politicians gathered on Wednesday to discuss whether the country should take part in military intervention in Syria.

Opening the debates in the lower house National Assembly, Ayrault addressed lawmakers with a 30-minute speech detailing the need for a military operation.

He placed blame for the August 21 chemical attack in Damascus on the Syrian government. The prime minister stated that a solution to the Syrian crisis “is political, not military,” but said that if “such actions by the regime” are not stopped, the door to political settlement would be closed.

Any response should be "strong, quick and targeting specific objectives,” Ayrault said. However, he ruled out the possibility of French troops being deployed on the ground.

"To not act would be to put in danger peace and security in the entire region. What credibility would our international commitments against non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons stand for?" Ayrault said, as quoted by Reuters.

"What message would this send to other regimes, and I am thinking like you of Iran and North Korea? The message would be clear: You can continue," Ayrault told parliament members.

The prime minister said that France would not act on its own, but rather together with other partners - including the United States. “We are also counting on the support of Europeans and countries in the region, especially those at the heart of the Arab League,” he said.

Christian Jacob, the head of the opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), argued that it is only the United Nations that can tell who was behind the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria and how it was conducted. Jacob said that opposition MPs will not back France’s participation in any military operation unless it is approved by the UN.

Jean-Louis Borloo, head of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents, urged relying on a diplomatic solution to the crisis. He welcomed Moscow’s proposal to discuss the issue at the upcoming G20 meeting in St. Petersburg, according to ITAR-TASS.

French lawmakers are also concerned over possible consequences of the strike on neighboring countries – particularly for 2,000 French peacekeepers currently deployed in Lebanon.

Wednesday’s parliamentary debate was not followed by a vote, despite a demand by many opposition leaders. Over 70 percent of the French population also supports the idea of such a vote taking place, a CSA opinion poll revealed.

French President Francois Hollande (AFP Photo / Bertrand Guay)

The French President Francois Hollande has been a fierce proponent of taking military action against Bashar Assad’s government, but he pledged not to instigate military action if the US Congress doesn’t approve a military offensive.

The US and France accuse the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in an August 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs.

Hollande said that the US vote "will have consequences on the coalition that we will have to create."

France's constitution doesn't require such a vote for military intervention unless its lasts longer than four months.

"Europe must unite on this dossier and it will, each with its own responsibility. France will accept its role."

The French leader also pointed out that he was even more determined to act after reading Assad’s interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro.

The Syrian President denies using chemical weapons and warns France of "negative repercussions" on its interests, should the country choose to attack.

“Anybody who contributes to the financial and military reinforcement of terrorists is the enemy of the Syrian people. If the policies of the French state are hostile to the Syrian people, the state will be their enemy,” Assad said, adding that the French people themselves were not enemies, but the French government’s policies were regarded as hostile.

On Monday, the French government released an extract of intelligence gathered by two leading French intelligence agencies, alleging that Assad's regime was behind the attack and at least two other assaults earlier this year.

On Tuesday, the French leader stressed that France had evidence that the nerve agent, sarin, was used in the latest attack, a claim American officials have also made.

However, the French people are not convinced: the majority of them – 59 per cent - are against French involvement in the military intervention, according to the latest public opinion poll conducted by IFOP (French Institute of Public Opinion) for Le Figaro newspaper.

Aymeri de Montesquiou, who is member of the French senate, told RT that France shouldn’t be too quick to rely on a US decision regarding military intervention.

“I think we must be very cautious and we must wait for the decision of United Nations experts. Remember, in 2003, the proofs were forged. And it was a disaster for Iraq and for the world economy. <…> We mustn’t be dependent on the American decision. If we agree, we have the same decision; if we don’t agree, we don’t have the same decision. But we mustn’t follow automatically…”

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