US calls for military action against Syria at UN
UNITED NATIONS - US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Friday that no decision had been taken about military action against Syria, but use of force would be in response to multiple chemical attacks carried out by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Haley made clear that the US administration was taking time to assess the full implications of military strikes on Syria after Russia warned that it could lead to a dangerous US-Russian war.
Addressing the Security Council, Haley laid out Washington's case for resorting to force, challenging Russia's claim that military action would be in violation of international law.
"Our president has not yet made a decision about possible action in Syria," Haley said.
"But should the United States and our allies decide to act in Syria, it will be in defense of a principle on which we all agree."
Citing US estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons "at least 50 times" in the seven-year war, Haley said: "All nations and all people will be harmed if we allow Assad to normalize the use of chemical weapons."
The United States is consulting with Britain and France about a joint military response to an alleged toxic gas attack in Douma that medics and rescuers said left at least 40 people dead on Saturday.
Syria and Russia have denied using poisonous gas in Douma on April 7, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that Moscow had "irrefutable" evidence that the attack in Douma was a "staged event."
Ahead of the meeting, Haley sounded a note of caution, saying there should be no rush to launch air strikes even though "at some point you have to do something."
"You don't rush decisions like this," Haley told reporters. "If you do, you make a mistake."
- Point of no-return -
Echoing the US stance, France's Ambassador Francois Delattre said Assad's government had reached a "point of no return" with repeated use of chemical weapons.
"France will shoulder its responsibility to end an intolerable threat to our collective security," he added, before calling for an end to the "chemical weapons escalation in Syria."
Russia's ambassador accused the West of using allegations of chemical attacks as a pretext to advance its sole aim in Syria of overthrowing Assad and keep Moscow's influence in check.
"The sole thing that they have an interest in is to oust the Syrian government and to deter, contain the Russian Federation," Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council session.
He called on the United States, France and Britain "not to bring the world to such a dangerous threshold."
Syria warned the Council that it will have "no other choice" but to defend itself if the West launches military action.
"This is not a threat. This is a promise," Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said.
The ambassador invoked Article 51 of the UN charter that recognizes the right to self-defence by any state if it comes under attack.
If Britain, France and the United States take military action, "we would have no other choice expect applying Article 51 that gives us the right to defend ourselves," said Jaafari.
Russia has also warned the United States that it will not allow its troops on the ground in Syria to be put at risk by military action, even though the two countries have contacts to avoid such direct confrontation.
The warning from Moscow came as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that increasing tensions over Syria could lead to "full-blown military escalation."
Guterres urged the Security Council to "act responsibly in these dangerous circumstances."