Barack Obama has continued to push for military intervention in Syria, enlisting the support of ten nations at the close of the G20 conference. John Kerry has traveled to Europe to make his case for armed involvement.
Obama on Friday convinced nine other G20 nations plus Spain to join him in support of a “strong” response to the alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The statement came short of supporting military strikes, however, demonstrating the disagreements over the conflict that have dominated the economic summit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the only European leader at the St. Petersburg summit who did not sign on, with a US official telling Reuters news agency that she wanted the European Union to discuss the issue first.
Putin, Obama still at odds
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Obama appeared no closer on how best to respond to Syria, despite a 20-minute one-on-one talk between the two on Friday.
While Putin said only the United States, Canada, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey favored military intervention, Obama claimed the “majority” of leaders believed the responsibility of the attack lay at the feet of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors,” Obama said. “Failing to respond to this breach of international norm would send a signal to world nations… that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction.”
When posed the question of whether he and Obama had engaged in their own meaningful discussion on Syria, Putin said: “We spoke sitting down… it was a constructive, meaningful, cordial conversation. Each of us kept with our own opinion.”
Kerry travels to Europe
US Secretary of State John Kerry was in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on Saturday, where he is holding informal talks with about 15 European foreign ministers on the topic of Syria.
Four EU member states – Britain, France, Spain and Italy – were among the ten nations who came out in support of the US at the St. Petersburg summit.
But the ministers are expected to urge the US to delay any military action in Syria until UN inspectors report on the alleged use of chemical weapons.
Britain’s parliament has already voted against military action, while France, which initially seemed to give its backing to military intervention, now says it wants to wait for the report.
Kerry wrote in an opinion piece for the Huffington Post news website Friday that his goal for the trip was to “continue to lay out the evidence we have collected and seek to broaden support for a limited military response to deter the Assad regime from launching another chemical weapons attack.”
According to US intelligence, 1,426 people living in a rebel-held area of Damascus were killed in the August 21 chemical weapons attack, which involved the use of sarin nerve gas. UN inspectors this week began laboratory analyses of samples taken at the site.
tj,ph/lw (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)