May 15 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he’s seen “raw data” indicating that the Syrian government has used chlorine gas “in a number of instances” to suppress the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
If that’s proven, there will be “consequences,” Kerry said today in London, although he added, “We’re not going to pin ourselves down to a precise date, time, manner of action.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking in Washington on May 13, said France had “credible witnesses” testifying to 14 instances of chemical gas attacks since last October. While France had been prepared to strike Assad’s regime in the aftermath of last August’s sarin gas attacks that killed more than 1,400 people, the U.K. Parliament and U.S. President Barack Obama decided against attacking, and France couldn’t act alone, he said.
“We regret it because we think it would’ve changed a lot of things,” Fabius said.
Instead, the U.S. and Russia last September brokered an agreement in which Syria agreed to surrender all its chemical weapons.
“I’ve seen evidence, it’s not verified yet, but I’ve seen raw data that suggests there may have been, as France has suggested, a number of instances in which chlorine has been used in the conduct of war,” Kerry told reporters after a meeting in London among international supporters of Syria’s opposition. “If it could be proven, that would be against the agreements of the chemical weapons treaty and against the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria has signed up to.”
While the Chemical Weapons Convention doesn’t prohibit countries from possessing chlorine, which is commonly used in industrial processes, it bans the chemical’s use as a weapon. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, has sent a team to Syria to investigate the alleged chlorine attacks.
A global response might include proceedings against Assad in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Kerry said, adding, “One way or the other, there will be accountability.”
Asked if the U.S. or its allies would answer the call by Syrian Opposition Coalition President Ahmad Jarba for expanded weapons assistance, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, Kerry declined to say “what specific weapons what country may or may not be providing.”
Kerry did say that foreign ministers at today’s meeting of the London 11, a group of nations supporting the Syrian opposition that includes European and Gulf Arab states, agreed that “every facet of what can be done is going to be ramped up,” including political support, aid to the opposition, humanitarian aid and sanctions against the regime.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, in an earlier news conference, said the U.K. will give 30 million pounds ($50.4 million) of additional assistance to the opposition, though it wouldn’t send any weapons to Syrian rebels.
The long-running conflict and increasing bitterness among the population underscores that it’s impossible for the Assad regime “to conquer all of Syria militarily,” Hague said. If the Assad regime thinks the world will give up and abandon the Syrian opposition, it is “mistaken,” he said.
Kerry said the U.S. is considering new routes to supply humanitarian aid to rebel-controlled areas, which might mean bypassing the United Nations and sending assistance through non-governmental organizations or directly across Syria’s borders. He said the U.S. is “frustrated” by the current routes, where aid is intercepted by the Assad regime and “not getting to people.”
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