A handout picture from the United Arab Emirates’ official news agency WAM shows Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan (L) walking alongside a translator (C) of French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (R) during the latter’s official visit to Abu Dhabi yesterday . Le Drain arrived in the UAE after a visit to Qatar to discuss defence and political cooperation and the conflict in Syria.
LONDON/Paris: Prime Minister David Cameron recalled parliament to debate Britain’s response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria as he began to make the case for targeted military action to punish and deter President Bashar Al Assad.
Stressing he had not yet taken a decision either way, Cameron condemned last Wednesday’s reported chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus as “ghastly”. “This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict,” Cameron told reporters in his first public comments on the matter. “It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn’t stand idly by.”
Cameron’s decision to recall parliament came after his spokesman said plans were being drawn up for possible military action. It sets the stage for a tough debate on Thursday that will end in a vote, the outcome of which remains uncertain.
The result is likely to depend on the wording of the motion, and government sources said Cameron would need to work hard to convince doubters across the political spectrum. He used his official Twitter feed yesterday to say any response had to be legal, proportionate and specifically to deter the use of chemical weapons.
Many lawmakers in Cameron’s governing Conservative party are sceptical about the idea of military intervention after what they regard as costly and unsuccessful operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nick Clegg, the leader of Cameron’s junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, indicated he agreed with Cameron, saying Britain wanted to send “a clear signal” that the use of chemical weapons was “simply intolerable”. “What we are not considering is regime change, trying to topple the Assad regime, trying to settle the civil war in Syria one way or another. That needs to be settled through a political process,” said Clegg.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour party, met Cameron yesterday. He said afterwards his party would consider supporting military action as long as it had clear and achievable military goals.
Cameron cut short his holiday to return to London and will chair a meeting of Britain’s National Security Council on Syria today.
Writing in The Times newspaper, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ordered British troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, said the West had to stop its “hand-wringing” and act. A failure to intervene would leave Syria “mired in carnage” as a more dangerous breeding ground for extremism than Afghanistan in the 1990s, he said.
In Paris, meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said yesterday that France was “ready to punish” those behind last week’s alleged deadly chemical weapons attacks in Syria, stressing that the conflict threatened “world peace”. “France is ready to punish those who took the vile decision to gas innocent people,” Hollande said in a televised speech, pointing the finger of blame at President Bashar Al Assad’s regime.
“Our responsibility today is to look for the most appropriate response to the exactions of the regime,” Hollande said, adding that the “chemical massacre in Damascus cannot be left without a response”. “This civil war today threatens world peace,” he said, adding that it had affected neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, wracked by bloody violence and attacks, and an influx of refugees in Turkey and Jordan. He referred to a 2005 United Nations resolution on the “responsibility to protect civilians” and said France would increase military support to the main Syrian opposition body.