UK Confirms it Won’t Take Part in Any Syria Military Action After Lawmakers Defeat Gov’t Motion

By Patrick Goodenough | August 29, 2013 | 8:04 PM EDT

In this image taken from video, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, centre, speaks during a debate on Syria, in Britain's parliament, London, Thursday August 29, 2013. Behind Cameron are British Foreign Secretary William Hague, obscured 2nd right, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, left. (AP Photo/PA)

( – Britain’s defense minister said late Thursday his country would not be involved in any military action against the Assad regime, after the House of Commons defeated a government motion endorsing British participation.

But Philip Hammond said he expected the United States and others would go ahead anyway with “responses” to the regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its citizens near Damascus last week.

“They will be disappointed that Britain will not be involved,” he told the BBC after the vote. “I don’t expect that the lack of British participation will stop any action.”

By a vote of 285 to 272, lawmakers rejected the government’s motion even though it made British action conditional on evidence from a U.N. team which is currently investigating the allegations.

Hammond fretted that the decision may harm the transatlantic relationship, and said Americans may “have been surprised by the scale of opposition.”

In Washington earlier, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to comment ahead of the looming vote in London.

“The president will continue contemplating what decision to take in close consultation with our allies,” she said. “I’m not going to go any further than that, except to say that we make our own decisions in our own timeline.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and rebels fighting to topple it have accused each other of responsibility for the deadly Aug. 21 attack, but administration officials from President Obama down have said the regime was to blame.

On Thursday evening senior administration officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, national security advisor Susan Rice and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were scheduled to hold an unclassified phone briefing for congressional leaders and national security committee chairmen and ranking members.

Harf said the briefing would “build on the administration’s ongoing engagement with members of Congress” over the Syria issue.

Many lawmakers want that “engagement” to go much further.

More than 100 members of Congress from both parties have signed a letter urging Obama to convene Congress and receive congressional authorization before any military action in Syria, arguing that failing to do so would be unconstitutional.

“If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request. We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict,” said the letter, an initiative led by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.).

A separate Democratic letter, launched by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and signed by more than 50 of her colleagues, urged the president “to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) warned that any military action in Syria “could bring serious consequences or further escalation.”

“The president should be making the case to the American public, and his administration should come to Congress to explain their plans,” he said. “The consequences are too great for Congress to be brushed aside.”

Harf noted Thursday that some key lawmakers have come out in support of the administration’s stance that the Assad regime was responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical attack and should be punished.

“Based on available intelligence, there can be no doubt the Assad regime is responsible for using chemical weapons on the Syrian people,” Senate Select Committees on Intelligence ranking member Sen. Saxby Chambliss said in a statement.

“It is time for the United States to act in a serious way, and send a clear message to Assad and his allies that the world will not tolerate chemical or biological attacks. Continuing to do nothing is not an option,” he said. “Short of putting troops on the ground, I believe a meaningful military response is appropriate.”

The select committee’s chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), did not go quite that far, but did say that after being briefed by the intelligence community she believes “the intelligence points to an attack by the Assad government, not the opposition.”

“While the Obama administration continues to evaluate its options, I urge the U.N. Security Council to strongly condemn the Assad regime,” she added.

Several meetings of the Security Council have failed to find agreement, with Russia and China opposing a British-led proposal that would authorize the use of military force against Syria.

The U.N. team in Damascus will wrap up its activities on Friday, leave the country by Saturday morning and immediately brief secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, he told reporters in Vienna on Thursday.

Ban repeated his earlier appeal that “diplomacy should be given a chance.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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