UK's Cameron shelves imminent Syria strike amid Parliament opposition

Britain delays strike until UN report; Londoners protest outside Downing Street against military strike.

Protest against Syria in London 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Olivia Harris )
Protest against Syria in London 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Olivia Harris )
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK -- The United States is willing to proceed with action in Syria without approval from the United Nations, the State Department 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 measures under Chapter seven of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons."
Western powers assert that Assad used chemical weapons on civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, killing over a thousand and wounding thousands more.
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."
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"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."
But in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to change tack on Wednesday evening in the face of growing opposition from members of the UK Parliament.
He vowed to resubmit new language to the UN Security Council, wait until the UN investigation on the ground in Syria completed its work over the weekend, and then call for a second vote from Parliament for authorization of military force.
Britain's opposition Labour Party, under Ed Miliband's leadership, threatened late Wednesday to vote against the motion to participate in military intervention in Syria without first exhausting UN procedures.
Facing defeat in the pending Parliament vote on Thursday, Cameron-- after reconvening its members for the crisis meeting-- shelved a military response for now 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 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."
Members of Parliament had come back from summer recess 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 Miliband in the meeting-- a rare overture from a prime minister to an opposition leader.
“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 immediately following the meeting.
Germany's Angela Merkel spoke with Cameron, agreeing with the British leader that Syria "cannot go unpunished."
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 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."
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."
A protestor shouts slogans during a rally against the proposed attack on Syria in central London August 28, 2013.
"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.