US President Barack Obama has spoken with several European leaders to explain a decision to send arms to Syrian rebels. Germany has reiterated its opposition to sending weaponry to Syria.
The American president spent much of a one-hour-long video conference with European G8 leaders on Friday to explain his change of heart on the issue.
A German government spokesperson, who confirmed that Chancellor Angela Merkel had taken part in the discussion, said that in addition to the conflict in Syria, the leaders used their talks to discuss the situation in Libya, as well as a number of other issues that are to be on the agenda at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on Monday and Tuesday.
A statement released by the office of the summit’s host, British Prime Minister David Cameron, said the leaders “discussed the situation in Syria and how G8 countries should all agree to work together on a political transition to end the conflict.”
A spokesman for French President Francois Hollande described the talks as “an extensive exchange on the subject of the G8 and in particular on Syria.”
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta also took part in the conference. No further details were released.
The Obama administration announced its intent to arm Syrian rebels after saying it had clear evidence that the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons during the ongoing conflict in that country.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the evidence showed that sarin was used in at least two separate attacks in March and April. It also said the US believed chemical agents were used in two other attacks last month.
President Obama had previously said that any use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line.”
Russia has reacted with skepticism to the intelligence provided to it about the alleged use of chemical weapons.
President Vladimir Putin’s senior foreign policy advisor warned that the US risked repeating mistakes made ahead of its Iraq invasion in 2003, when false intelligence was used to justify military action.
“I would not want to believe that this data can be similar to the situation with the vial that [US] Secretary of State Colin Powell brandished at the famous Security Council meeting,” Yury Ushakov said. He was referring to a Security Council meeting in 2003, in which Powell held up a vial he said could contain anthrax as he gave evidence of Iraq’s alleged weapons program. US forces failed to uncover weapons of mass destruction following its invasion of Iraq later that year.
No arms from Germany
Syria’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, accused the US of using “fabricated information” to justify arming the rebels.
Also on Friday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said there was no change in Berlin’s position on the issue.
“Germany itself will not send any weapons to Syria,” Westerwelle told the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag. At the same time, though, he said Germany respected the right of its allies to make up their own decision about the issue.
pfd/lw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)