Obama’s glibness and Kerry’s questionable powers of persuasion failed at the G-20 Conference in Russia to convince even France, the one time only supporter of the Obama plan to use military force to teach Assad a lesson. No doubt, they have not been shown irrefutable evidence by the U.S. that it was Assad, and not the rebels who staged the attack.
Bloomberg (h/t Susan K) Secretary of State John Kerry failed to sway his European counterparts on the urgency of a U.S.-led military strike to halt the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s more than two-year civil war.
France, the principal U.S. ally in a possible assault, slowed its march to a confrontation by backing a European Union appeal to put off an armed response until the United Nations delivers a report on last month’s alleged use of chemical agents in a massacre near Damascus.
“The EU underscores at the same time the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process,” Catherine Ashton, the 28-nation bloc’s foreign-policy chief, told reporters after EU foreign ministers met Kerry in Vilnius, Lithuania.
U.S. setbacks in securing international backing for targeted strikes on Syria’s war-making capability are matched by President Barack Obama’s trouble at home in persuading Congress to authorize an American intervention.
Kerry thanked the EU for “a strong statement about the need for accountability,” then left Vilnius for Paris to meet French leaders tonight and Arab League foreign ministers tomorrow. Kerry proceeds to London to consult British and Saudi officials, and to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The G20 summit in Russia that ended yesterday exposed international divisions, with resistance led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the prime ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
While Putin’s objections echoed Russia’s opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq invasion of Iraq in 2003 and underlined current strains between Moscow and Washington, the European doubts about the case for war came from putative U.S. allies.
EU divisions pit France and Denmark, among the most vocal supporters of a military response, against Germany, a European diplomat present in the meetings told reporters. Some fear a strike could create a rally-around-Assad effect in Damascus, said the diplomat, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Europe’s misgivings were exemplified by France, which completed a 24-hour policy reversal today. On arriving in Vilnius yesterday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he saw no point in waiting for the UN report because “everyone knows” that chemical weapons were used east of Damascus and that the UN won’t resolve the question of who used them.
After the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, French President Francois Hollande contradicted his foreign minister, saying France too would wait to hear from the UN analysts.
On the other hand, Hollande remained on board with a possible military strike, saying it would “accelerate a political solution” to a conflict that has left more than 100,000 dead. France would arm the rebels if Congress rejects a U.S. intervention, he said.