Syria 'chemical attack': UK, US and France agree action

Syria 'chemical attack': UK, US and France agree action

  • 10 April 2018
Related Topics
  • Syrian civil war
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Media captionSuspected chemical attack is 'barbaric' - May

Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed with her US and French counterparts that the international community needs to respond to an alleged chemical attack in Syria.

In phone calls, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump said those responsible should be "held to account".

The international chemical weapons body has sent a team to the site in Douma.

But Russia, which provides military support to Syria, has said there is no evidence of a chemical attack.

Medical sources say dozens of people were killed, including children, during the alleged toxic bombing of formerly rebel-held Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region.

The UN Security Council rejected a draft US resolution, which proposed a new inquiry to establish who was to blame.

Russia vetoed the move and China abstained meaning a resolution could not be passed.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the result was "hugely disappointing" and accused Russia of holding Syrian people to "political ransom" by supporting President Assad's regime in the country.

  • Syria 'chemical attack': What we know
  • Why is there a war in Syria?
  • Russia: No evidence of chemical attack

At the meeting, Britain's UN Ambassador Karen Pierce said Russia was not authorised to carry out an investigation on behalf of the security council.

She called for "an independent, investigative mechanism" which the council, its members and the Syrian people could have confidence in.

"It's become very clear Russia will do what it takes to protect Syria whatever the compelling evidence of the crimes committed and to shut down further investigation and discussion of those crimes."

Earlier, US President Trump cancelled a planned trip to Latin America to focus on the issue. He has pledged a "forceful response".

Downing Street said the separate phone calls established the countries would work together to take action to "uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons".

A spokeswoman added: "They agreed that reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria were utterly reprehensible and if confirmed, represented further evidence of the Assad regime's appalling cruelty against its own people and total disregard for its legal obligations not to use these weapons."

Analysis: May's dilemma

by James Robbins, BBC diplomatic correspondent

The US would like any military response to include European powers but Theresa May would not be drawn by questions on possible British involvement.

She faces the acute dilemma whether or not to seek parliamentary approval, which she might not get. To recall parliament before it returns next week after the Easter recess would be a huge step, but taking her own decision carries political risk.

Then there's a question of loyalty among international allies.

After Donald Trump took unprecedented action in answer to her appeals for support by expelling record numbers of Russian diplomats from the US after the Salisbury nerve agent attack, is this her payback time?

And how will it look if France joins possible action against President Assad and Britain does not? Would that be confirmation that Paris is the dominant military capital of post-Brexit Europe?

It is not clear what support the UK will offer in response, but BBC deputy political editor John Pienaar says refuelling aircraft is a probable option.

He added any direct action would require parliamentary consent.

The White House said Mrs May and Mr Trump both condemned Mr Assad's "vicious disregard for human life" and agreed the use of chemical weapons should not continue.

Last year, President Trump ordered a missile strike in retaliation for a Sarin gas attack against a Syrian town.

On Tuesday afternoon Mrs May also chaired a National Security Council meeting to discuss the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, although it is not known if any conclusions or decisions were reached.