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France to await US congressional decision on Syria

August 31, 2013 GMT

PARIS (AP) — Mirroring U.S. policy, France will wait for its parliament to consider possible military action against Syria before President Francois Hollande decides whether to launch strikes, his office said Saturday.

Paris hewed a close line to Washington while asserting its independence after President Barack Obama said Saturday he believes the United States should respond with force over a suspected chemical weapons attack by Bashar Assad’s regime, but decided to put the issue before the U.S. Congress first.


France, under Hollande’s Socialists, has been the most vocal and visible country to show willingness to join the United States in military action against Syria following an alleged chemical weapons attack in rebel-held or contested areas last week. The U.S. claims the attack killed 1,429 people — including more than 400 children — marking a grave and intolerable escalation in Syria’s two-year civil war that has left 100,000 dead.

Before his speech about Syria outside the White House, Obama explained his decision to Hollande in a phone call, said an official in the French president’s office. Hollande noted that he had already decided to convene France’s parliament on Wednesday to take up a debate about Syria.

The two presidents “reaffirmed their joint willingness to act,” and have an “absolute and shared conviction” that Assad’s regime was behind the chemical weapons attack, the official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to be publicly named under presidential policy.

Unlike in Britain, Hollande does not need the permission of parliament to order France to intervene militarily. Britain’s parliament on Thursday rejected efforts by Prime Minister David Cameron to have British forces possibly take part in military action against Syria.

In his speech, Obama said the U.N. Security Council “has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable. As a consequence, many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress, and undoubtedly, they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the Parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the prime minister supported taking action.”

After Obama’s speech, Cameron tweeted: “I understand and support Barack Obama’s position on #Syria.”


French officials said France is ready to strike once Hollande gives the order, though he has said he hasn’t yet made a decision. The officials haven’t publicly specified how the French military posture has changed in preparation for a Syria action, though analysts say that France’s most likely contribution would involve firing cruise missiles on targets in Syria.

At the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China have repeatedly blocked efforts by fellow permanent members Britain, France and the United States to pass tough resolutions against Assad’s regime.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said Cairo rejects military intervention in Syria except under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, whereby it is proven that the country has become a danger to international peace and security. Fahmy also asked that any decision be put off until the report of the U.N. investigators regarding the use of chemical weapons comes out.

Speaking on MBC Egypt TV, in comments relayed by the state-run news agency MENA, Fahmy said Obama was seeking Congress’ approval to “immunize” himself politically in the wake of controversial U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jordan, where several hundred U.S. military personnel, as well as jet fighters and anti-missile batteries are deployed to bolster the security of the close U.S. ally, said diplomatic efforts must be exhausted before Washington opts for the military option.

“Jordan supports a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis,” Information Minister Mohammad Momani told The Associated Press. Any such solution must take into consideration the “people’s unity and territorial integrity,” he said.


Associated Press correspondents Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Sylvia Hui in London, Sarah El Deeb in Cairo, and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.