August 29, 2013

U.S. readies possible solo action against Syria

Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., says the administration is in the process of declassifying evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people.

The Associated Press

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Protesters against U.S. military intervention in Syria are pictured as they set up a cardboard cutout of U.S. President Obama, during a rally outside the White House in Washington
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Protesters against U.S. military intervention in Syria stand beside a cutout of President Obama at a rally Thursday outside the White House. Skeptics want solid evidence linking the Assad regime to the use of chemical weapons.

Reuters

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Israeli soldiers drive a tank at a staging area in the Golan Heights, near the border between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. United Nations experts are investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria as the United States and allies prepare for the possibility of a punitive strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, blamed by the Syrian opposition for the attack. The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says at least 355 people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

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Five UN powers end Syria meeting with no progress

UNITED NATIONS — A meeting of the U.N. Security Council's permanent members ended quickly Thursday with no sign of progress on an agreement over Syria's crisis.

The meeting Thursday afternoon started breaking up after less than an hour, with the ambassadors of China, France, Britain, Russia and the United States steadily walking out.

It was the second time in two days that the five Security Council powers came out of a meeting on Syria with no progress. On Wednesday, the five countries met to discuss a resolution proposed by Britain to authorize the use of military force against Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds near Damascus.

Russia remains firmly opposed to such action, saying there is no evidence the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack, as the U.S. and its allies contend.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant looked grim as he walk past reporters Thursday, saying "no comment." The other ambassadors also did not speak to reporters.

A Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private, said Russia called Thursday's meeting. Russia's U.N. mission refused to comment.

– The Associated Press

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron argued a military strike would be legal on humanitarian grounds. But he faced deep pressure from lawmakers and had already promised not to undertake military action until a U.N. chemical weapons team on the ground in Syria released its findings about the Aug. 21 attack.

The prime minister said in terse comments after the vote that while he believes in a "tough response" to the use of chemical weapons, he would respect the will of the House of Commons.

Caitlin Hayden, Obama's National Security Council spokeswoman, said the U.S. would continue to consult with Britain but Obama would make decisions based on "the best interests of the United States."

It was not certain the U.S. would have to act alone. France announced that its armed forces "have been put in position to respond" if President Francois Hollande commits forces to intervention against Syria. Hollande does not need French parliamentary approval to launch military action that lasts less than four months.

Obama discussed the situation in Syria with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who wrote to the president earlier this week seeking a legal justification for a military strike and the objectives of any potential action.

Assad, who has denied using chemical weapons, vowed his country "will defend itself against any aggression."

Some of the U.N. chemical weapons experts will travel directly from Syria on Saturday to different laboratories around Europe to deliver "an extensive amount of material" gathered, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said. While the mandate of the U.N. team is to determine whether chemical agents were used in the attack, not who was responsible, Haq suggested the evidence — which includes biological samples and witness interviews — might give an indication of who deployed gases.

Obama and other top officials have not revealed definitive evidence to back claims that Assad used chemical weapons on Syrians. U.S. officials say the intelligence assessments are no "slam dunk," with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria's chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the intelligence publicly.

Despite shortcomings in the intelligence, the White House signaled urgency in acting, with Earnest, the White House spokesman saying the president believes there is a "compressed time frame" for responding.

"It is important for the Assad regime and other totalitarian dictators around the world to understand that the international community will not tolerate the indiscriminate, widespread use of chemical weapons, particularly against women and children as they're sleeping in their beds," he said.

But many Congress members were pressing Obama to explain the need for military action and address fears that such a move might draw the U.S. deeper into the Syrian civil war.

The White House has not responded directly to Boehner's letter seeking more answers about Syria operations and the speaker's office appeared unsatisfied after the president's call Thursday.

"Only the president can answer these questions, and it is clear that further dialogue and consultation with Congress, as well as communication with the American public, will be needed," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

Washington Rep. Adam Smith, senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, cautioned that an attack might be ineffective and might draw the United States into the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.

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Members of the Syrian community in Allentown, Pa. rally for the second day in a row Wednesday against the United States' involvement in Syria.

The Associated Press

  


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