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UK sidelined on Syria attack plans

Britain stood sidelined as the United States was poised for a military strike against Syria after setting out "compelling" evidence against Bashar Assad's regime.

US secretary of state John Kerry said the American intelligence community had "high confidence" that the regime launched a chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus last week and put the death toll at 1,429, including 426 children.

In a passionate speech in Washington, he urged the world to act as he warned "history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator".

The US is looking to France for support after David Cameron's humiliating defeat in the Commons on Thursday ended any possibility of British military action. High-profile figures said Britain's international standing has been undermined and Mr Kerry's decision to pointedly refer to France as "our oldest ally" will be viewed as a snub to Washington's irritation.

Downing Street insisted the US special relationship was still intact following a telephone call between the Prime Minister and Mr Obama. A No 10 spokeswoman said: "The PM explained that he wanted to build a consensual approach in Britain for our response and that the Government had accepted the clear view of the House against British military action. President Obama said he fully respected the PM's approach and that he had not yet taken a decision on the US response. The president stressed his appreciation of his strong friendship with the Prime Minister and of the strength, durability and depth of the special relationship between our two countries. They agreed that their co-operation on international issues would continue in the future and both reiterated their determination to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict by bringing all sides together."

The Prime Minister was forced to drop plans for the potential use of British forces in strikes against Syria after MPs - including 30 Tory rebels - rejected a motion indicating that military action could be required to protect Syrian civilians. Mr Cameron acknowledged that "politics is difficult" after the reverse but said he would not have to apologise to Mr Obama for being unable to commit UK military units to any international alliance.

Setting out the approach he would now take to Syria, the Prime Minister said: "I think it's important we have a robust response to the use of chemical weapons and there are a series of things we will continue to do. We will continue to take a case to the United Nations, we will continue to work in all the organisations we are members of - whether the EU, or Nato, or the G8 or the G20 - to condemn what's happened in Syria.

"It's important we uphold the international taboo on the use of chemical weapons. But one thing that was proposed, the potential - only after another vote - involvement of the British military in any action, that won't be happening. That won't be happening because the British Parliament, reflecting the great scepticism of the British people about any involvement in the Middle East, and I understand that, that part of it won't be going ahead."

Later, President Barack Obama said he has decided that the United States should take military action against Syria in response to the deadly chemical weapons attack. But he said he will seek congressional authorisation for the use of force. Mr Obama said he has the authority to act on his own, but believes it is important for the country to have a debate.

President Obama revealed advisers had cautioned against going to Congress, particularly in light of the Commons defeat David Cameron suffered on Thursday. The Prime Minister quickly took to Twitter to endorse the president's approach, writing: "I understand and support Barack Obama's position on #Syria."

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