Europe’s top officials warned against a military response in Syria yesterday, aligning themselves more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin than US President Barack Obama in how best to respond to the chemical attack in the Syrian civil war.
While describing the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus, in which an estimated 1,400 people died, as “abhorrent” and a crime against humanity, European Council President Herman van Rompuy said a military strike would not help resolve the crisis.
“There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict,” Van Rompuy told reporters ahead of a summit of the G20 countries in St Petersburg, Russia, when the conflict in Syria is expected to dominate debate along with discussion on the global economy.
“Only a political solution can end the terrible bloodshed, grave violations of human rights and the far-reaching destruction of Syria,” Van Rompuy said. “While respecting the recent calls for action, we underscore at the same time the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process.”
His position, supported by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, would appear to set the EU at odds with the US, since Obama has said he is prepared to launch military strikes once he has approval from the US Congress, where votes are expected next week.
It also suggests internal divisions within the EU. France, which with Britain is the most influential of the EU’s 28 member states on foreign policy, has said it will support any military action taken by Washington.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was also keen to support military intervention, but he lost a parliamentary vote on the issue last week and Britain will not take part.
Van Rompuy said he had no reason to doubt the credibility of the evidence presented by the US indicating al-Assad’s forces released the chemical weapons, but he said it was essential to wait until UN experts had concluded an on-the-ground investigation into the attack with a report.
“I look forward to the information the UN secretary-general will share with us on this matter later today,” he said. “It is important that at least a preliminary report is released as early as possible.”
EU foreign ministers meet in Vilnius today and tomorrow, when they will discuss the situation in Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry will join them and is expected to push the case for military action.