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US says inaction on Syria riskier, Assad warns retaliation
Washington/London, Sep 9, 2013 (PTI): 18:50 IST
The US today said not responding to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is riskier than military strikes even as embattled President Bashar al-Assad warned America and its allies that they should "expect every action" in retaliation.
"I don't believe that we should shy from this moment: the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in London. Kerry said it is Assad who will not negotiate as long as he is not prevented from using chemical weapons.
"If one party believes he can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity...he will never come to a negotiating table," Kerry said.
After spending most of his time over the weekend calling up and meeting lawmakers, President Barack Obama will be on a media publicity blitz over the next two days to convince war-weary Americans that an attack on Syria is needed for the long-term safety of the US.
The US has alleged that the nerve agent sarin was used by the Assad regime on August 21 and that at least 1,429 people were killed, including over 400 children, a charge denied by the Syrian government.
Russia, which has vehemently opposed unilateral action in Syria, today warned military strikes against Syria risked causing an "outburst of terrorism" in the region.
"All the more, politicians share our estimation that a military solution will lead to an outburst of terrorism both in Syria and in neighbouring countries," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem.
"The possibility for a political solution remains," Lavrov said. He said that his Syrian counterpart has assured him at the talks in Moscow that Damascus was still "ready for peace talks".
Meanwhile, Assad has warned that if President Obama decides to launch military strikes on Syria, the US and its allies should "expect every action" in retaliation. "You should expect everything. Not necessarily from the government," Assad told CBS News yesterday in his first television interview since Obama sought congressional approval for military action in Syria.
In a clear reference to his allies in Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, Assad warned that his government is "not the only player in this region."
"You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now," Assad said. Asked whether any retaliation for US strikes could include the use of chemical weapons, Assad said it would depend "if the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it. It could happen, I don't know. I am not fortune teller."
Obama's plans for a military strike against the Assad regime suffered a setback last week when his ally Prime Minister David Cameron's resolution seeking authorisation for action suffered a shock defeat in the British Parliament.
Many world leaders at the G20 summit in Russia last week also did not agree with Obama's plans for a strike.
Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin could not reach consensus when they met for "candid and constructive" talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
While the White House believes an endorsement from the Senate could be within reach, the passage of the Syria resolution in the Republican-led House is likely to be even harder.
A Washington Post survey said 224 of the current 433 members of the House were either "no" or "leaning no" on military action as of Friday, while 184 were undecided and just 25 were backing a strike.
Many US politicians remain concerned that military action could draw the nation into a prolonged war and spark broader hostilities in the region.
The Obama administration is trying everything to garner support for the strikes both at home and abroad. Kerry has already toured many EU countries to seek support.
"Let me be clear, the United States, President Obama, myself, others are in full agreement that the end of the conflict in Syria requires a political solution. There is no military solution, we have no illusions about that," he said after talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in London.
"But a resolution to this has to come about because the parties are prepared to come and negotiate that political solution," Kerry said.
"A resolution will not be found on the battlefield, but at that negotiating table. But we have to get to that table."
Hague said that Washington had the "full diplomatic support of the United Kingdom" even though it will not take part in military action.
Even as Russia and China oppose unilateral action outside UN's mandate, France has stood beside the US, calling for strong action against Syria.