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Kerry: Arab world stands with US on Assad chemical weapons use

Published time: September 08, 2013 18:16
Edited time: September 09, 2013 04:19
US Secretary of State John Kerry answers a question during a press conference at the United States Embassy in Paris, on September 8, 2013.(AFP Photo / Susan Walsh)

US Secretary of State John Kerry answers a question during a press conference at the United States Embassy in Paris, on September 8, 2013.(AFP Photo / Susan Walsh)

US Secretary of State John Kerry claims to have the backing of the majority of the Arab world for punitive measures against Bashar Assad after the alleged chemical attack near Damascus. His statement came after a meeting with key Arab League ministers.

"All of us agreed - not one dissenter - that Assad's deplorable use of chemical weapons, which we know killed hundreds of innocent people...this crosses an international, global red line," Kerry said on Sunday in Paris, as he neared the end of a whirlwind tour aimed at persuading international politicians of the merits of a military strike against the Assad regime.

The secretary of state met with nine Arab foreign ministers and the secretary of the Arab League, which represents over 20 states. Kerry said that the meeting yielded new signatories to the G20 statement which asks for a “strong international response” in Syria. The document, which was made public at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg on Friday, is being used by Washington as the foundation for its coalition.

"A number of countries immediately signed on to the G20 agreement that was reached by now 12 countries on the side of the G20 meeting and they will make their own announcements in the next 24 hours about that,"
Kerry said.

Saudi Arabia, a member of the G20 group of the world’s biggest economies, has already signed the US statement, and Qatar, whose foreign minister Khaled al-Attiya stood by Kerry as he spoke, is another firm ally.

“We in Qatar support the G20 side statement. At the same time, we call on all other countries to intervene to protect the Syrian people.”

Whether the support of other countries extends to endorsing military action as a response to the August 21 incident, which the US says resulted in the deaths of 1,400 civilians, is not clear.

Egypt and Jordan, which is one of a group of countries afraid of a spill-over if the conflict escalates, have spoken out against direct action against Assad.

"What we are seeking is to enforce the standard with respect to chemical weapons," Kerry said, seeking once again to reassure that the mooted US strike will be limited in time and scope.

"We are not seeking to become engaged in, or party to, or take over Syria's civil war."


Kerry also refused to rule out the possibility of Washington submitting a UN resolution alongside its own petition. On Friday, French President Francois Hollande said that the international community should wait for an imminent report on the alleged attack from a UN expert team and try to secure endorsement for any intervention from the Security Council.

"On President Hollande's comments with respect to the UN, the president [Obama], and all of us, are listening carefully to all of our friends," Kerry said. "No decision has been made by the president."

In private, the US has reservations. Russia, which has a veto in the Security Council, has rejected every Western-backed resolution, and Vladimir Putin has accused the Syrian rebels of staging the August 21 chemical attack.

"We have always supported working through the UN but have been clear there is not a path forward there and we are not currently considering proposing another vote," an unnamed diplomat told Reuters news agency in Paris.

Kerry next flies to the UK for further talks, but no concrete action will take place at least until the US Congress votes on the proposed strike sometime next week.

The Assad regime, which has been involved in the 30-month conflict that has cost at least 100,000 lives, continues to deny any responsibility for the gas attack.

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