Publicly, France remains the only country that has announced it is prepared to do so.
“There are a number of countries, in the double digits, who are prepared to take military action,” Kerry said in Paris on Saturday after talks with his European counterpart, Laurent Fabius.
“And I have said previously and I repeat again: We have more countries prepared to take military action than we actually could use in the kind of military action being contemplated.”
As Kerry flew to Europe earlier, a senior State Department official in a background briefing said the secretary would not likely “get into the details of how particular countries might play particular roles.”
“That is a function that we will leave to our colleagues in American military uniforms to conduct with other countries’ counterparts,” the official said. “I know that those discussions have started with some countries.”
Kerry’s trip to Lithuania, France and Britain is dedicated largely to securing international support for what President Obama says will be limited, targeted military strikes against the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons. Kerry was able to point to some steps towards winning support in recent days.
First, at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg late last week, 12 countries signed up to a statement calling for “a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated.” The statement did not specifically mention military action.
Kerry in Paris noted that 12 out of 20 was “a majority, and in a democracy that’s pretty strong, and particularly when you consider some of the others and what their interests are, I think it’s a very powerful statement.”
Those backing the statement were the U.S., Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain (not a G20 member but present at the summit) and Turkey.
G20 members choosing not to sign were Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and South Africa.
The last member, the European Union, did not sign as a bloc, although the European signatories agreed to “continue to engage in promoting a common European position.”
The 28-member E.U. remains undecided, however. Both Kerry and Fabius pointed to a statement agreed by the member states’ foreign ministers in Lithuania earlier in the day calling for “a clear and strong response” to the Aug. 21 chemical attack.
But the statement, like the earlier one in St. Petersburg, was also silent on military action. Moreover it called for the crisis to be addressed “through the U.N. process” and welcomed France’s decision to await the findings of a U.N. investigation before taking further steps.
Will Obama now await U.N. report?
The U.N. report, which secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says will be delivered very soon, will not determine responsibility for the attack, merely whether chemical agents were used. Citing their own intelligence the U.S. and several other countries (Britain, France, Germany, Australia) say they believe that is already confirmed. President Bashar Assad has repeatedly denied – most recently in an interview with Charlie Rose, due to be broadcast Monday – being behind chemical weapons attacks, accusing opposition rebels instead.
Despite the administration’s repeated insistence that the evidence is solid, Kerry in Paris for the first time hinted that President Obama, too, may now await the U.N. report.
Asked whether he agreed with French President Francois Hollande “when it comes to waiting for the report of the U.N. inspectors” before taking action, Kerry replied, “The president of the United States has made no decision, and I will return to Washington and obviously this will be a point of discussion. But we take that decision [to await the U.N. investigation outcome] under advisement, but the president has given up no rights of decision with respect to what he may or may not do.”
“Multilateral structures and organizations that we’ve spent years trying to build up to respond to these kinds of things – the principal one is the U.N. – hasn’t been able to respond because one nation keeps vetoing its ability – or two nations – to be able to act,” Kerry said.
“So are we supposed to turn away because the U.N. itself has become a tool of ideology or of individual nations, and not say that the principle we put in place and have fought for all of these years is going to be thrown away? I don’t think so.”
On Sunday, Kerry met in Paris with representatives from eight Arab League members – Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority, and said all had agreed that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21 “crosses an international global redline.”
That said, none of the Arab countries have agreed – publicly at least – to participate in any military strikes.
At a joint press appearance with Kerry Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah, whose country has been one of the most vocal critics of Assad and active supporters of the rebels fighting to oust him, was asked directly whether Qatar would participate militarily, perhaps by offering aircraft, bases or fuel – and hedged.
“Qatar is currently studying with its friends and the United Nations what it could provide in order to protect the Syrian people,” he said through an interpreter.