Kerry Cites Growing Support for Military Strike on Syria

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Syrian government forces patrol in the Khalidiyah neighborhood in the central city of Homs, July 28, 2013. Close

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Source: AFP via Getty Images

Syrian government forces patrol in the Khalidiyah neighborhood in the central city of Homs, July 28, 2013.

Secretary of State John Kerry said more nations will announce their support for a possible U.S.-led strike against Syria as U.S. lawmakers debate whether to authorize the use of force against President Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking in Paris after a meeting with Arab foreign ministers, Kerry said Saudi Arabia backs a strike to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons and others will soon also declare their support.

“I am not going to name the other countries simply because we agreed in the meeting that they will go back and make their own announcements, which they will do in the next 24 hours,” he said at a news conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Al Attiyah.

While the Obama administration is planning to act without the approval of the United Nations Security Council because of Russia’s support for Assad, officials are seeking to dispel the notion that an attack will be a unilateral move without international consent. The U.S. doesn’t plan to “become engaged in, or party to Syria’s civil war,” Kerry said. “The end of this civil war is going to require a political solution.”

The U.S. and its allies accuse Assad of using chemical weapons in a Aug. 21 attack near Damascus, in which the Syrian opposition and the Obama administration say more than 1,400 people were killed. Assad has repeatedly denied the charge.

Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said previously that nothing is to be gained by waiting for the UN findings because the evidence of a chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is overwhelming. Close

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said previously that nothing is to be gained by... Read More

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Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said previously that nothing is to be gained by waiting for the UN findings because the evidence of a chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is overwhelming.

‘Growing Consensus’

Kerry spoke a day after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that there was “a growing consensus to take action,” even though his country joined its European counterparts in seeking a delay until the UN releases a report on the massacre.

Fabius, whose nation is the principal U.S. partner in the possible strike, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told him the world body will “very soon” present the results of its investigation into the massacre.

Kerry has said previously that nothing is to be gained by waiting for the UN findings because evidence is overwhelming that Assad’s regime was responsible for the attack, whose death toll included more than 400 children.

Even so, release of the UN report, which is expected in about two weeks, coincides with the schedule for the U.S. House of Representatives to debate President Barack Obama’s plan for a strike, meaning his administration will be forced to wait regardless. The Senate is scheduled to act this week.

Debate in Congress

U.S. setbacks in securing international backing for targeted strikes on Syria’s war-making capability are matched by Obama’s trouble at home in persuading Congress to authorize an American intervention.

Kerry said he will brief Congress upon returning to the U.S. Sept. 10 as the administration seeks to rally support for action, showing lawmakers videos of victims of the attacks.

“The vast majority of members of Congress, House and Senate, are undecided and that’s why the videos are being shown and the briefings are being held,” Kerry said. The footage was posted on the Senate intelligence committee website.

In a new sign of that challenge, Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who faces a re-election battle next year, said that he opposes U.S. military action against Syria “at this time,” saying the Obama administration hasn’t proved “a compelling national security interest” or a clearly defined mission.

Obama plans to make his case to the U.S. public in interviews with television networks and in a televised address on the evening of Sept. 10.

The buildup toward another intervention by Western powers in the Middle East has pushed oil prices to a two-year high. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 2 percent to $110.53 per barrel on Sept. 6.

National Security

France and Britain have both produced intelligence dossiers backing U.S. assertions that Assad’s forces were behind the attack. The European Union allowed only that the intelligence “seems to indicate” that Assad’s regime was the culprit in what it called a “blatant violation of international law, a war crime and a crime against humanity,” according to EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Public ‘Unease’

France, which teamed with Germany and Russia to oppose the Iraq war, emerged as the principal European voice in favor of military intervention in Syria after U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a British role was repudiated by parliament.

There is public “unease,” about British involvement in Syria, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC today. “If circumstances change dramatically, of course everybody will be looking at things in a different light,” he said when asked about the possibility of another vote.

On arriving in Vilnius, Lithuania for the EU meeting on Sept. 6, Fabius had said he saw no point waiting for the UN report because “everyone knows” chemical weapons were used and 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 will wait to hear from the UN analysts, while at the same time indicating the report would “tell us what we all already know.”

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 since it began in March 2011. France would arm the rebels if Congress rejects a U.S. intervention, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Paris at ngaouette@bloomberg.net; Alaa Shahine in Dubai at asalha@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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