Major powers hold UN talks on Syria

UK-drafted Security Council resolution condemns alleged gas attack, seeks approval for action to protect civilians

Cameron's spokesman said the resolution will be put to the U.N. in New York later on Wednesday.
Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

British diplomats consulted with the representatives of the four other veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, hoping to gain support for a draft resolution authorizing "all necessary measures" to protect Syrian civilians from chemical weapons. But Russia insisted that U.N. inspectors be allowed to complete their report into last week's suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus before discussing any resolution.

The meeting coincided with growing urgency in calls in Western capitals for military action, although the Russian response underscores the expectation that Security Council authorization for imminent action is unlikely to be forthcoming. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has indicated that the inspectors need four more days in Syria to complete their initial investigation, and more time beyond that to analyze the data. 

That time frame -- and the track record of Russia and China of vetoing Security Council resolutions to pressure the regime of Bashar al Assad -- suggest that London is unlikely to win support for a resolution authorizing military action. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier that his country's leaders had agreed that the "world should not stand by" after the alleged chemical attack by Assad.

Russia's deputy foreign minister, however, said it was "premature" to talk about a Security Council response before U.N. experts deliver a report on the suspected attack, Reuters reported.

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from U.N. headquarters in New York, said the time needed for the inspection "presents a little of a problem for U.S., U.K. and France as they consider possibly taking military action without U.N. authorization."

Discussing his government's U.N. move, Cameron wrote on his Twitter feed that "Britain has drafted a resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad and authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians." 

"We've always said we want the U.N. Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that," Cameron added.

The move comes on the heels of a U.S. decision to "punish" the Syrian government for the alleged chemical weapons attack and President Barack Obama's implication that U.N. approval may not be deemed a prerequisite for U.S. action.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that the U.S. military is "ready to go" if Obama orders action in response to the alleged attack.

France has joined the U.S. and Britain in pressing for action, with President Francois Hollande declaring that his country was ready to "punish" those responsible for the suspected chemical attack. The French parliament will hold an emergency session regarding Syria on Sept. 4.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle echoed Britain's call for a Syria resolution.

"We urge all members of the Security Council, in particular Russia, to seize this opportunity and contribute to a common stance by the global community against the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction in Syria," Westerwelle said.

NATO's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said any chemical weapons use by Syria is "unacceptable and cannot go unanswered."

But the Arab League, while condemning the alleged chemical attack and holding the Assad regime responsible, declined to declare support for military action. 

The U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said any international military action in Syria could be carried out only after it has been approved by the U.N. Security Council, despite the council's two-year deadlock over the issue.

"I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council," he told reporters in Geneva, while reiterating his support for an international conference with representatives from both the Syrian government and the opposition to hammer out a resolution to the crisis.

The pressure for action follows allegations last week that hundreds of civilians were killed in a poison gas attack. Syria's civil war has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday described the alleged attack as a "moral obscenity" that demanded accountability.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad rebuked claims that the Assad government is responsible for the gas attack, and said the U.S., Britain and France helped "terrorists" use chemical weapons in the conflict.

Regional implications

Increased support for military intervention is putting Syria's neighbors on alert.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who previously labeled the alleged chemical attack a "crime against humanity," said Wednesday that "all options" remain on the table. Turkey, where more than 400,000 Syrian refugees are currently living, shares a 560-mile border with Syria.

Israel is deploying all its missile defenses as a precaution against possible Syrian retaliatory attacks and is bracing itself for possible rocket barrages from Hezbollah, Syria's Lebanese ally.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that his country wanted to keep out of the Syrian crisis but would "respond forcefully" to any attempt to attack Israel.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday that he is putting security forces on high alert, fearing further violent spillover if Western nations intervene in Syria.

Jordan, where more than 500,000 Syrian refugees currently live, has also urged caution ahead of any strikes on its neighbor.

"Jordan will not be a launching pad for any military action against Syria," said Information Minister Mohammad Moman.

He said Jordan prefers a "diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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