US: NATO allies dismiss UN on march toward Syria

America says it will proceed with UK, France to act in Syria without UN approval; slighting Russia, US "does not see an avenue forward" at Security Council; UK parliament to consider Syria options Thursday.

August 28, 2013 23:21
United Nations Security Council

United Nations Security Council 311 (R). (photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK -- The United States, Britain and France will proceed with action in Syria without approval from the United Nations, the US said on Wednesday, after a short but tense afternoon brought NATO allies in direct conflict with Russian obstruction over how to respond to the mass use of chemical weapons.

Britain submitted language for a resolution on Wednesday to the UN Security Council, but ultimately failed to gain consensus on a draft, leaving Western allies with "no choice" but to proceed with a response circumventing the international body.

The permanent five members of the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss the draft, at which the UK Permanent Representative Mark Lyall Grant presented language condemning "the attack by the Assad regime, and authorizing all necessary measure under Chapter seven of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons."

Russia called the draft resolution "premature."

The US now "does not see an avenue forward" through the Security Council, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Wednesday after the meeting adjourned. "We are not proceeding with a vote on this draft resolution."

"We are making our own decisions on our own timeline," Harf added. "The Russians have been clear that they have no interest in holding the Syrian regime accountable."

Crisis in Syria - full coverage

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Wednesday information from a variety of sources pointed to President Bashar Assad's forces being responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21 on a massive scale, killing over a thousand civilians and wounding thousands more.

Speaking after a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels, Rasmussen said any use of such weapons was "unacceptable and cannot go unanswered."

"This is a clear breach of longstanding international norms and practice," Rasmussen said. "Those responsible must be held accountable."

Turkey placed its armed forces on alert on Wednesday, in light of possible security threats from Syria as the West continued planning military action against the Damascus regime in response to the Ghouta attack, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.

Davutoglu asserted that "all options are on the table" for Turkey to address the use of chemical weapons in Syria on a massive scale.

Turkey's allies in Washington, London and Paris have been weighing military intervention in Syria's harsh civil war since last week. US and British navy destroyers have been deployed to the eastern Mediterranean in the event President Barack Obama chooses to order a strike.

"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."

Turkey has been bullish on Syria throughout its civil war, openly supporting rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad-- including the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaida.

On Monday, one senior Turkish official told a local media outlet that his government was considering making their Incirlik air base available to NATO should the Western coalition, led by the United States, choose to proceed with military intervention.

Incirlik was used by NATO in operations in Iraq and Kosovo.

But Jordan's foreign ministry asserted that, despite its deep dissatisfaction with the Assad regime and its tactics, it would not become directly entangled in the military conflict.

A Jordanian official confirmed to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that "Jordan will not be a launching pad for any military action against Syria."

In London, Parliament prepared to convene to debate and vote on UK involvement in an allied attack in response to Ghouta. Prime Minister David Cameron convened his national security council for a crisis meeting on the conflict, and included opposition party leader Ed Miliband.

"The NSC (National Security Council) agreed unanimously that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was unacceptable - and the world should not stand by," Cameron said on his official Twitter feed after a meeting of the high-level security body.

But the politics facing Cameron are proving tougher than expected. The opposition Labour Party, under Ed Miliband's leadership, threatened to vote against the motion to participate in military intervention in Syria until UN procedure is fully exhausted, and their investigation completed.

Facing defeat in the Parliament vote, Cameron-- after reconvening its members for the crisis meeting-- shelved a military response to avoid the standoff.

The move appeared to put the breaks on any immediate action in the coming days.

"We will proceed as far as possible on a consensual basis," William Hague said. But "we must be prepared to take action... to deter the use of chemical weapons."

Hague said the motion on how to respond to an alleged chemical attack in Syria to be considered by parliament on Thursday was consistent with the approach adopted by the government so far.

"This motion, that we're putting to the House of Commons tomorrow, endorses the government's consistent approach that we must be prepared to take action against the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, to deter the future use of chemical weapons," Hague told the BBC.

Hague said he spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday evening and provided him with an update.

"This is one of the lessons of the last decade," Hague said of Cameron's efforts to achieve parliamentary consensus, referring to political fallout from the Iraq War.

Hague said 10 Downing hoped to proceed "with the maximum degree of consent," adding that the use of chemical weapons in this century "is something on which the world should be able to unite."

Germany's Angela Merkel spoke with Cameron, agreeing with the British leader that Syria "cannot go unpunished."

Syria's ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja'afari accused rebel forces of executing the chemical weapons attacks, and further said they had obtained the materials from "outside powers, namely Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar." Ja'fari also emphasized that he wanted a "thorough scientific investigation" by the current UN chemical weapons inspectors team to be presented to the Security Council.

When asked whether Syria would attack Israel, Ja'fari merely said, "We have the right to self-defense according to the charter of the United Nations. It's up to the military command to determine how we would respond to any military aggressions."

"The Syrian government is against the use of chemical weapons by all means," Ja'fari said, and continued, echoing the words of US Secretary of State John Kerry, "This is a moral obscenity. The use of chemical weapons, or biological, or nuclear is a moral obscenity. Is not acceptable by any government."

"We are not the war-mongerers," he continued. "We are a peaceful nation seeking stability in the area, because instability will serve only the Israeli interests."

Ja'fari went on to assert that the entirety of the Arab spring, including the Syrian crisis, "serves only one goal," which is to distract the world from the Palestinian question. "It has been really unfortunate that for decades to notice that the American diplomacy has always been motivation by defending Israeli interests," Ja'fari said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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