Britain says UN talks on Syria could last several days

28th August 2013, Comments 0 comments

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday that talks at the UN over a response to the Syrian crisis would continue "over the coming days", as the British parliament prepares to debate possible military action.

Britain sought backing from the UN Security Council on Wednesday, submitting a draft resolution to the five permanent members calling for action to protect Syrian civilians.

But Hague insisted the international community still had a duty to act even if agreement could not be reached in New York, where Syria's close ally Russia has repeatedly vetoed action.

Hague said: "It is time the United Nations Security Council shoulders its responsibility on Syria which for the last two and a half years it has failed to do."

Prime Minister David Cameron will Thursday make the case to lawmakers for targeted military action to halt the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but he faces opposition from those haunted by the experience of the Iraq war.

Ahead of the parliamentary debate, Cameron and his ministers met with defence chiefs Wednesday and agreed that President Bashar al-Assad's regime was behind the chemical attack near Damascus last week, Downing Street said.

"Ministers agreed that the Assad regime was responsible for this attack and that the world shouldn't stand idly by; and that any response should be legal, proportionate and specifically to protect civilians by deterring further chemical weapons use," the spokeswoman added.

The Syrian government has strongly denied it used chemical weapons and blames opposition fighters for the attack on August 21, which reportedly killed hundreds of people near Damascus.

Cameron is expected to tell lawmakers that he foresees targeted military strikes to "degrade" the regime's chemical weapons capability, and will urge them to vote in favour of such action.

The prime minister's choice of words is likely to be aimed at persuading lawmakers that Britain does not intend to be dragged into the wider Syrian conflict, but is acting in response to what he and US President Barack Obama believe was an attack launched by the regime.

But in a sign that Cameron has work to do to win over sceptics, some members of the opposition Labour Party said they would vote against military action.

Diane Abbott, a veteran MP who speaks on health issues for Labour, said she would oppose the motion because she feared military strikes could lead to wider involvement in the Syrian conflict.

"It is not clear that it will change Assad's evident determination to fight to the last Syrian and the danger is we get dragged into a civil war in the Middle East," she said.

Abbott also evoked the Iraq conflict -- the British parliament gave then prime minister Tony Blair a mandate to join the US-led offensive in 2003 only to see Britain embroiled in the war for years.

"Iraq was supposed to be a short, sharp military intervention... it created much more killing, brutality and instability and there is a danger (this) will go the same way," she told BBC radio.

As a party, Labour have given Cameron conditional support for the vote, making it clear that they want to see a "clear legal basis" for action, through the "direct involvement" of the UN.

Cameron also faces some dissenting voices within his own centre-right party.

Douglas Carswell, an outspoken Conversative backbencher who is not afraid to clash with his leader, said he would ignore any party orders on how to vote.

"I will make up my mind during the debate," Carswell told the Daily Telegraph. "This is about what sort of country we are and what sort of role we play in the world."

Senior military figures also expressed concerns about intervening in Syria.

Lord Alan West, a former First Sea Lord and a security minister under the premiership of Gordon Brown, said he was "extremely nervous" about the unpredictable nature of missile strikes.

"An attack is extremely dangerous. You cannot predict what will happen," he said.

A YouGov poll for The Sun showed that British voters overwhelmingly oppose the use of British missiles against military sites in Syria.

© 2013 AFP

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