EU: Clear, strong response to Syria crisis needed
U's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton addresses the media after a meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Vilnius on September 7, 2013. (AFP)
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The European Union called Saturday for a “clear and strong” international response to the Bashar Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, but said UN inspectors investigating the incident should report their initial findings before any action is taken.
The statement came as US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to persuade skeptical European allies to join an international coalition on Syria after a Group of 20 summit ended Friday with a stalemate between Washington and Russia.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton read the statement, which she said reflected the position of all EU members, after four hours of talks Saturday between Kerry and EU foreign ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“Information from a wide variety of sources confirm the existence of such an attack and seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible,” it said, given that it was the only party with access to such weapons and the means to deliver them on such a wide scale. It called the use of chemical weapons a “blatant violation of international law, a war crime and a crime against humanity.”
The statement did not explicitly endorse military action, but said the international community cannot remain idle and that “a clear and strong response is crucial to make clear that such crimes are unacceptable and that there can be no impunity.”
At the same time, it said, the European Union underscores the need to address the Syrian crisis through the UN process. It hopes that UN chemical weapons inspectors who visited the site of the Aug. 21 attack can report their preliminary findings as soon as possible.
It also welcomed comments by French President Francois Hollande that he would wait for the preliminary report before any military action was taken.
Meanwhile, military officials told NBC Friday that the White House had asked the Pentagon to prepare an expanded list of potential targets in Syria. President Barack Obama characterized the report as “inaccurate.”
Obama was back in Washington Saturday preparing for an uphill battle to convince members of Congress to support military action. He appealed to a dubious American public to back his bid to use military force in Syria while supporters scrambled to persuade lawmakers to authorize the move.