Speaking to reporters in Paris while on a three-day trip to build international support for action against the Syrian government, Kerry was asked if he agreed with calls from the president of France, François Hollande, to wait for UN weapons inspectors to turn over their report on events in eastern Damascus on August 21. The US says that on that day, Syrian government forces used sarin gas to kill 1,429 civilians.
Following the British Parliament’s vote against military action in Syria, France has emerged as the most high-profile US ally pressing for action in response to the allegations of the use of chemical weapons by the government of Bashar Al-Assad.
Kerry said that the US “respected” Hollande’s decision and that it would be taken “under advisement,” adding that President Obama “has made no decision, and I will return to Washington and obviously this will be a point of discussion.”
He added: “President [Obama] has given up no rights of decision with respect to what he may or may not do.”
Kerry also used the press conference to reiterate calls for action against Assad’s government, saying, “This is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter . . . this is not the time to allow a dictator unfettered use of some of the most heinous weapons on earth.”
Kerry also repeated his previous comparison of Assad to Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, saying that the three were the only leaders to have used chemical weapons since the introduction of the Geneva Protocol banning their use in the 1920s.
He insisted that the campaigned planned by the US was “targeted and limited but clear and effective,” and would carry minimal risks of escalating American and international involvement. “We are not talking about going to war, this is not Iraq and it’s not Afghanistan. It’s not even Libya or Kosovo,” he added.
Kerry’s press conference followed a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Lithuania, also attended by Kerry, which blamed the Syrian government for carrying out the attack of August 21. The EU’s chief of foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement calling it a “blatant violation of international law, a war crime and a crime against humanity.”
However, the statement also called for any punitive action to be delayed until the report on the incident had been received by the UN Security Council.
Kerry is scheduled to hold meetings with leaders of member-states of the Arab League in Paris on Sunday, before flying to London on Monday for consultations with British foreign minister William Hague.
Meanwhile, President Obama is expected to spend Monday attempting to rally support for a US-led military strike against Assad among a skeptical American public, as well as the US Congress, which is due to vote on a resolution authorizing military action soon.