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Europe urges US to delay action in Syria

EU foreign ministers will insist to Kerry that America hold off at least until UN inspectors’ report published

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for an informal meeting of EU ministers for foreign affairs in the National Art Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Mindaugas Kulbis)
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for an informal meeting of EU ministers for foreign affairs in the National Art Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Mindaugas Kulbis)

VILNIUS, Lithuania — European foreign ministers meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to urge the United States to hold off any military action in Syria until UN inspectors report on the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Kerry is in Europe courting international support for a possible strike on the Syrian regime for its reported use of chemical weapons on August 21. European officials have been skeptical about whether any military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime can be effective.

On Saturday, Kerry and about 15 European foreign ministers attended an informal meeting of the European Union in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Britain’s Parliament has already voted against military action. And French President Francois Hollande displayed sudden caution on Friday, saying he would wait for a UN report before deciding whether to intervene militarily.

France, which firmly backs the Syrian rebels and has strategic and historic interest in the region, had been ready to act last week but held off when President Barack Obama declared last weekend that he would seek the backing of Congress first.

Hollande’s announcement appeared to catch French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius off guard. Earlier on Friday, he told EU foreign ministers meeting in Vilnius that there was no need to wait for the UN report because it would simply confirm what was already known — that the chemical weapons attack had occurred — but would not say who was responsible.

The UN report is expected later this month, although some European officials are asking the UN to speed up the probe or issue an interim report.

Also on Friday, EU defense ministers said that all evidence points to the Assad regime using chemical weapons in the August 21 attack.

The ministers met Friday in Lithuania which holds the rotating presidency. Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said that although the ministers condemned the use of chemical weapons, there were “a variety of opinions” on what should be done.

While in Europe, Kerry also is discussing ongoing talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

He is scheduled to meet on Sunday in Paris with representatives of Arab nations and then later in the day hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in London, his last stop before returning to Washington.

Obama has been working for several weeks to gain international and domestic support for a US-led strike in Syria in response to the August 21 attack. He’s already secured the support of a Senate panel that authorized the order to strike, provided that any operation last no more than 90 days and that no American troops set foot in Syria. He’s now lobbying for congressional approval, as Congress reconvenes next week.

President Barack Obama listens as Samantha Power, his nominee to be the next UN Ambassador, speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama listens as Samantha Power, his nominee to be the next UN Ambassador, speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

On Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power argued that a limited strike was the only option left to respond to the use of chemical weapons.

“Some have asked, given our collective war-weariness, why we cannot use non-military tools to achieve the same end? My answer to this question is: we have exhausted the alternatives,” Power said at the Center for American Progress

Late Thursday, Power blamed Russia for the lack of progress at the UN and for holding the Security Council “hostage.”

“Russia continues to hold the Council hostage and shirks its international responsibilities,” she said.

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