Kerry seeks EU support on Syria after G20 split

September 7, 2013 8:01 am
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US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) is greeted by Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas (C) and US Ambassador to Lithuania Deborah McCarthy upon arrival at Vilnius International Airport on September 7, 2013/AFP
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) is greeted by Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas (C) and US Ambassador to Lithuania Deborah McCarthy upon arrival at Vilnius International Airport on September 7, 2013/AFP

, VILNIUS September 7- US Secretary of State John Kerry will Saturday seek to rally EU support for military strikes against Syria after a G20 summit failed to resolve bitter divisions between Washington and Moscow.

Kerry will press the case for punitive action against Syria after what the United States says was a chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar al Assad near Damascus, despite a lingering deep split among global powers.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin failed to resolve their differences at the summit in Saint Petersburg as half of the G20 called for a “strong” response to last month’s alleged chemical attack.

Kerry is to hold talks with the European Union’s 28 foreign ministers in Lithuania, which currently holds the EU’s rotating chair, with the bloc itself sharply split.

Only France has said it is ready to take part in military action, while Britain whose parliament voted against any involvement and Denmark have expressed support.

France was one of four European nations with Britain, Italy and Spain that signed a statement Friday at the G20 meeting calling for a “strong international response” to the chemical attack widely attributed to the Assad regime.

The statement, signed by 11 of the G20 nations but not by Germany said the response would “send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated”.

It did not specify military action and European diplomats said the language remained unclear.

Obama said Friday in Saint Petersburg that the world could not “stand idly by” but Putin warned that it would be “outside the law” to attack without the UN’s blessing.

Putin also said Russia would “help Syria” if the US were to strike, pointing to existing military, economic and humanitarian cooperation.

Washington has prepared the ground for possible strikes, evacuating non essential embassy staff from Beirut and urging Americans to avoid all travel to Lebanon and southern Turkey.

As well as the stubborn international differences, the US administration still has to win backing from Congress for any action against Syria.

Congress reconvenes on Monday and Obama addresses the nation on Tuesday. But he acknowledged that convincing Congress to back military action against the Syrian regime would be a “heavy lift”.

“I understand the scepticism,” the US president said.

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