UK downplays chance of military action in Syria

British PM says limited, but growing evidence of chemical weapons use by Assad regime which would constitute a "war crime."

David Cameron 370 (photo credit: Isaac Strang/UJIA)
David Cameron 370
(photo credit: Isaac Strang/UJIA)
Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday there was limited but growing evidence the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons, but added it was unlikely this would trigger British military action.
Cameron’s comments came after the White House said Assad’s government had probably used chemical arms on a small scale, but that US President Barack Obama needed proof before he would act.
Speaking in a BBC interview, Cameron called the likely use of chemical weapons in Syria, “extremely serious, this is a war crime, and we should take it very seriously.”
He agreed with Obama’s assertion that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line,” but said the UK was trying not to make the mistake of rushing to judgment without verifying the evidence.
Cameron said he would not like to see British troops on the ground in Syria, but he supports increasing pressure on the Assad regime.
“I have always been keen for us to do more. We are working with the opposition, we want our allies and partners to do more with us to shape that opposition to make sure we are supporting people with good motives who want a good outcome, to put pressure on that regime so we can bring it to an end.”
Turkey was also cautious on Friday about foreign military intervention.
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“We have been hearing allegations of the use of chemical weapons for quite some time now and these new findings take things to another level.
They are very alarming,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu said.
“Since the very first reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria emerged, we have been asking for a thorough investigation by the United Nations to substantiate these reports.
However, the Syrian regime has not allowed this.”
Damascus, which has denied access to UN investigators because of a dispute over their remit, denies firing chemical weapons and accuses anti- Assad rebels of using them.
“This has been done by organizations, including al- Qaida, which threatened to use chemical weapons against Syria,” Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said in Moscow. “They have carried out their threat near Aleppo.
There were victims.”
“The Syrian army does not have chemical weapons,” Interfax news agency quoted Zoubi as saying.
A once-fervent advocate of foreign intervention in Syria, Ankara has grown increasingly frustrated with the fractured opposition to Assad and with international disunity.
Asked whether Turkey would allow foreign military action in Syria from its soil, Gumrukcu said the facts regarding the use of chemical weapons needed to be substantiated first.
“Let’s not jump to that right now, let’s have a thorough investigation,” he said, adding that any response if the claims were verified would need to be discussed among the “Friends of Syria” grouping of the opposition’s Western, Arab and other allies.
The European Union also responded cautiously, saying it hoped the UN would be able to send its investigating mission to Syria to check for chemical weapons use.
“We are still monitoring this along with our international partners to see what has really happened because it doesn’t seem entirely clear at this point in time,” said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
“We’ve seen that the regime in Syria doesn’t seem to have much respect for human life, but we can’t be definitive on this until we see definitive evidence,” Mann said.