Cameron and Obama moving closer to Syria action plan
The US and UK governments are leaving all options open to respond to an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government, as officials have agreed for the UN inspectors to be allowed access to the site in Damascus.
Following a 40 minutes phone conversation, US president Barack Obama and British prime minister David Cameron are understood to be almost entirely convinced that the attack was carried out by the regime and acknowledged that a significant response was necessary.
American and British government officials stressed that all options are being considered as it is vital that the world upholds the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons and deters further outrages.
Barack Obama previously said that the use of non-conventional weapons would cross a “red line” triggering a response of force. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has been talking to his counterparts to study all possibilities.
The international community’s threats came as the UN’s disarmament chief, Angela Kane, and Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, announced this morning that an agreement had been reached for UN inspectors to investigate the site of the attack.
It is still unclear when the UN team will have access to the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta and how their safety will be guaranteed, as clashes are still on-going between the government forces and rebels in the area.
The UN reiterated that time was of the essence as sarin gas – the weapon allegedly used – disperses and evaporates quickly on the ground, and it is now more than 4 days after the attack. Rebel groups say that they will guarantee safe passage for the inspectors.
The Syrian regime denies it was responsible for the attack blaming the rebels and said it had nothing to hide. Syrian state TV declared that chemical agents stored in tunnels previously controlled by the rebels were found by the army yesterday, although their claims could not be verified.
Adding to pressure on the Syrian regime, the international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said it had proof that more than 3,000 patients with neurotoxic symptoms were treated in three hospitals in Damascus in the hours following the attack.
France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, also said on Saturday that “all the information at our disposal converges to indicate that there was a chemical massacre near Damascus and that the regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible”.
The US has added a destroyer to its Mediterranean flotilla as defence secretary Chuck Hagel said no response to Syria would involve sending troops in the country.