VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) – The European Union agreed on Saturday that the Aug. 21 chemical attack outside Damascus appears to have been the work of Syria’s regime, but that any potential military attack against it should wait for a U.N. inspectors’ report.
After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the EU ministers ended days of division on the issue with a statement saying the available intelligence “seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks.”
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, who hosted the meeting, put it more bluntly in targeting Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaking of “more and more evidence that the Assad regime is behind all these crimes. We can’t just ignore this.”
The EU nations, most of which have been skeptical of a quick retaliatory strike against the regime, underscored “the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the U.N. process.” The ministers said they hope a “preliminary report of this first (U.N.) investigation can be released as soon as possible.”
Kerry welcomed the stand of the 28 EU nations, calling it “a strong statement” backing all “the efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable for what it has done.”
The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported Saturday that the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors could submit initial findings from their tests of samples collected in Syria by the end of next week. The respected weekly said the interim report to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon will likely contain details on the gas, ammunition and delivery systems used in the attack that killed hundreds of people in a suburb of Damascus.
Instrumental in bringing the EU together around a common viewpoint was the decision on Friday by French President Francois Hollande to wait for the U.N. report before deciding to intervene militarily, even though France had said the report would only show a chemical attack had taken place, not apportion blame.
The EU ministers welcomed “President Hollande’s statement to wait for this report before any further action.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the U.S. should follow France’s example.
“We jointly welcomed the fact that France has decided to wait for the presentation of the United Nations report,” Westerwelle told reporters. “We have also made clear our expectation toward our American partners that one should follow the example of France before capitals decide on taking further measures.”
The EU ministers also stressed that perpetrators for such chemical attacks should face possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Germany joined in on blaming the attack on the Syrian government. It had been the only European member of the Group of 20 not to co-sign a joint statement issued Friday at the end of the group’s meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, blaming the regime.
That G-20 statement calls for a strong international response against Assad’s regime but stops short of explicitly calling for military action against the Syrian government. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Saturday in Vilnius that his country wanted to wait for EU foreign ministers to agree on a common position before backing the statement.
Kerry said Saturday he would share his counterparts’ concern with Obama administration officials. A senior U.S. State Department official who attended Kerry’s meeting with the ministers said Kerry made clear that the U.S. has not made any decision to wait. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details about the private meeting.
“My impression is that the American side understood our expectations and that they will consider this in their own decision-making process,” Westerwelle said.
The U.S. blames Assad’s regime for the chemical attack and, citing intelligence reports, says sarin gas was used. The U.S. 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 only been able to confirm 502 dead.
Associated Press Writers Deb Riechmann in Vilnius and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
- 6 of the biggest skin cancer myths
- Affordable small home makeover ideas
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy