U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the United States will continue to seek an international coalition in response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, despite opposition by British lawmakers to any military action. "Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together," Hagel said in The Philippines on August 30 while visiting Manila.
Syria's government has denied responsbility for the attack, noting that some of its own soldiers were killed. It blamed the rebels now arrayed against. UN inspectors are now on the scene to ascertain the type of toxic chemical used in an attack that killed hundreds.
This was after Britain's lower house of Parliament rejected a motion for British participation in a military strike. The non-binding vote is a setback to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who told lawmakers a military strike would be a response to a war crime, not an attempt to topple the Syrian government. The vote in parliament also came after the failure of a last-ditch British diplomatic effort to obtain the United Nations' blessing for military action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime at a meeting of the permanent members of the Security Council. "It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly," Cameron said.
Reacting to the British vote, Hagel said, “First, every nation has the responsibility to make their own decisions. And we respect that with any nation. We are continuing to consult with the British as we are with all of our allies and partners. And that consultation includes ways forward, together on a response to this weapons attack in Syria." Asked what Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, could do to avoid a military strike, the U.S. defense secretary responded he has "not been informed of any change in the Assad regime's position on any issue." He said that the Obama administration will continue to seek an "international coalition that will act together against Syria's regime."
Not only are the British showing cold feet, but Germany and Canada have also said to count them out.
"We are continuing to consult with the British as with all of our allies. That consultation includes ways forward together on a response to this chemical weapons attack in Syria," said Hagel.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said the British vote will not affect his country's position on Syria. In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, he said he does not favor international action merely to overthrow the government, but a chemical assault must not go unpunished. On August 30, Hollande said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper, "France wants firm and proportionate action against the Damascus regime," while hinting an attack was possible by next week.
In Washington, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have asked the White House for the legal justification and objectives for a military strike on Syria. Members of Congress briefed by senior Obama administration officials on August 29 said there is no doubt the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack last week.
Democratic Representative Eliot Engel of New York said the U.S. officials cited intercepted communications between senior Syrian officials. Engel also said intelligence showed the Syrians moved materials around in advance of a chemical strike. Earlier on August 29, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that along with circumstantial evidence, the United States has classified intelligence that undoubtedly points to an attack by the Syrian government.
President Barack Obama is still deciding how to respond to Syria. A military strike against the Assad government appears to be the most likely course of action. President Hollande of France hinted that a strike could come before September 4. Israel, for its part, is hedging its bets and is now speedily issuing gas masks to its civilian population while its military prepares for the eventuality of an attack by Syria.