Kerry Cites ‘Very Broad Coalition’ of Countries in Support of Syria Action; His Dep’t Lists Nine

By Patrick Goodenough | September 5, 2013 | 8:30 PM EDT

President Obama walks with other G20 leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

( – As expected, G20 leaders meeting in St. Petersburg found “no consensus” over Syria during a working dinner Thursday, but even setting aside the longstanding opposition from Russia and China the Obama administration’s assertions of a growing “broad coalition” continue to look shaky.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington Secretary of State John Kerry was asking “for countries to speak publicly about their support.”

She named nine countries which she said have “publicly and explicitly expressed support for U.S. military action,” but then confirmed that did not mean they have offered to participate in any strike against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The nine she named were France, Poland, Romania, Albania, Kosovo, Turkey, Canada and Australia.

There are 193 member-states of the United Nations.

In congressional testimony on Wednesday, Kerry stated, “There are at least 10 countries that have pledged to participate. We have not actually sought more for participation. We have sought people for support and there are many, many more, obviously, that support.”

Psaki said during Thursday’s press briefing she was unable to identify the 10 countries Kerry was referring to, but acknowledged that some were included in her list of nine. (France has publicly said it would participate, while Turkey said it was  ready to join “any coalition” against Syria although did not specify this would include a military role.)

Also on Capitol Hill this week, Kerry said that some 53 “countries and organizations” have publicly condemned the August 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus and that around 34 countries “have indicated that if the allegations [of regime responsibility] are true, that they would support some form of action against Syria.”

“So there’s a very broad coalition that’s growing of people who believe we ought to take action against Syria,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Asked why so few of the world’s countries, relatively, have condemned the attack, Psaki replied that she could not speak for other countries but that “consultations are, of course, ongoing.”

Asked if the administration was disappointed that it was unable to bring together a coalition the size its predecessor had managed to assemble ahead of the Iraq war, she said, “this is a work in progress.”

‘No consensus’ at dinner

In St. Petersburg, President Obama is trying to widen support for his plan to take limited military action against the Assad regime.

Syria wasn’t originally on the agenda for the summit of the economy-focused group, but host President Vladimir Putin suggested the subject be tackled over a working dinner on Thursday evening.

But Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr told his country’s national broadcaster afterwards that “all countries expressed their views, there was no consensus and there was no hope of movement from the U.N. Security Council.”

Carr, who represented Australia at the summit in place of the prime minister one day before a national election, disclosed that Australian intelligence agencies had independently confirmed that the regime was behind the chemical attack. He confirmed that Australia supports limited U.S. military action, as had been defined by Obama.

President Obama and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands before the start of their bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The G20 members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Of those, only Australia, Britain, Canada, France, and Turkey have voiced support for U.S. action, according to Psaki’s list, as well as Saudi Arabia which she did not name.

“We would not anticipate every member of the G20 agreeing about the way forward in Syria, particularly given the Russian position over many, many months now in terms of resisting efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters en route to Russia on Thursday morning.

“The president will, however, have a chance to speak with allies of the United States and key partners to explain our current thinking on Syria,” he added. “And I think we'll continue to work with those countries to see what type of political and diplomatic support they may express for our efforts to hold the Syrian regime accountable.”

Before dinner on Thursday, Obama held a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Rhodes said afterwards “we had I think a broad expression of support from the prime minister on what we’re trying to do in terms of enforcing an international norm around chemical weapons.”

“We’ll be working over the course of the next two days on the margins of a summit that is dedicated to economic issues to enlist continued support politically, diplomatically from other countries,” he said.

“In terms, in particular, of our friends, our allies, our partners around the world, we believe it’s important for people to raise their voices on behalf of international norms that countries around the world have signed onto for many years.”

‘Coalition of the invisible’

Apart from countries pledging moral or political support for military action, Kerry has spoken of some Arab states offering to finance the mission.

“With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assist, the answer is profoundly yes,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “They have. That offer is on the table.”

He did not name them and neither would Psaki on Thursday, but resource-rich Saudi Arabia and Qatar are Assad’s most outspoken foes in the region.

The 22-member Arab League is divided, however, with some members opposed to any military action, and others opposed to any absent U.N. Security Council authorization.

“Congress should seek an explanation from the administration as to why, if the August 21 attack poses a regional threat, our Arab partners are not more committed,” Heritage Foundation scholar Brett Schaefer said this week.

“I would be interested in knowing the countries that will be standing with us,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said on CNN on Wednesday. “That's been problematic. It’s like we’ve got a coalition of the invisible here.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), on the same show, told Burgess, “You were at the classified briefing the other day like I was and it was pretty clear, and laid out for us which countries were ready to stand with us militarily. I'm certainly not comfortable sharing that on national television …”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow