The European Union agreed on Saturday that the August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus appears to have been the work of Syria’s Bashar Assad-led regime, but said that any potential military attack against it should wait for a UN inspectors’ report.
After meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, the EU ministers ended days of division on the issue with a joint statement that the available intelligence “seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for the attack,” EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.
The EU nations, most of which have been skeptical on a quick retaliatory strike against the Assad regime, underscored “the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process,” Ashton said.
She hoped a “preliminary report of this first (UN) investigation can be released as soon as possible.”
Germany on Saturday joined the United States and ten other members of the Group of 20 biggest economies in blaming the Syrian government for the alleged chemical attack against civilians last month. Berlin had been the only European member of the G-20 not to co-sign a joint statement issued Friday at the end of the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Friday’s statement called for a strong international response against Assad but stopped short of explicitly calling for military action against the Syrian government.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had said early Saturday that Berlin wanted to wait for EU foreign ministers to agree on a common position before backing the statement.
France had already said it would wait for the UN inspectors’ report before deciding to intervene militarily, even though it said the report would only show a chemical attack had taken place, not apportion blame. Such a report could take more than another week to come to conclusions.
Kerry said he would share his counterparts’ concerns with Obama administration officials. A senior State Department official who attended Kerry’s meeting with the EU ministers said Kerry made clear that the US has not made any decision to wait.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details about the private meeting.
The US blames Assad’s regime for the attack in the Damascus suburbs and, citing intelligence reports, says sarin gas was used. The US says 1,429 people died, including 426 children.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists, says it has so far only been able to confirm 502 dead.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.