News On Iran & Its NeighboursSyriaPresident Hollande says alleged chemical attack cannot go unpunished

President Hollande says alleged chemical attack cannot go unpunished

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Wall Street Journal: President François Hollande’s vow to join a potential U.S.-led strike on Syria propels France to the unusual position of Washington’s top ally after the U.K. withdrew amid strong public and parliamentary opposition to military action.
France Backs Action in Syria

The Wall Street Journal

By Stacy Meichtry

PARIS—President François Hollande’s vow to join a potential U.S.-led strike on Syria propels France to the unusual position of Washington’s top ally after the U.K. withdrew amid strong public and parliamentary opposition to military action.

If the U.S. and France carry out strikes on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the tandem would mark a sharp turnabout a decade after the two countries clashed over Washington’s decision to invade Iraq and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.

“The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished,” Mr. Hollande said in an interview with French daily Le Monde. “There are few countries with the capacities to inflict sanctions with the appropriate means,” he said. “France is among those. It is ready.”

Mr. Hollande later spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama about Syria. Details of the call were not disclosed.

President Obama feels compelled to send Syria’s President Assad a message over his alleged use of chemical weapons, says WSJ’s Adam Entous. But any military action risks sucking the U.S. deeper into the country’s civil war — an outcome Washington wants to avoid.

The pledge of military support from Mr. Hollande—who promised not to shirk from France’s military “responsibilities”—means the Obama administration can count on at least one major Western ally if it moves forward with plans to punish the Syrian regime for allegedly using chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack, which rebels say killed more than 1,000 people. The Assad regime has denied using chemical weapons.

Still, Mr. Hollande’s move carries big political risks at home. The French and U.S. governments may have turned the page on the Iraq war, but the French public remains deeply skeptical about U.S.-led military interventions. Recent polls show that public opinion is about evenly divided over France intervening in Syria—even with a U.N. mandate.

President Barack Obama’s push to assemble an international coalition was thrown into doubt Thursday after the U.K. government lost a parliamentary vote that would have supported in principle military intervention in Syria.

Germany on Friday also ruled out any participation, although it hadn’t been expected to join and hadn’t been asked, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin.

French backing helps Mr. Obama argue that the U.S. isn’t isolated.

“The fact that Britain won’t be there, makes it even more useful for France in terms of reiterating France as a global player and France’s usefulness to America as an ally,” said Daniel Levy, an analyst with the European Council of Foreign relations.

In flanking Washington, France completes a diplomatic and military about-face that has been a decade in the making, according to analysts. France has long been a close but skeptical ally, ceding the role of Washington favorite to the U.K.

Along with Berlin and Moscow, Paris was one of the most vocal opponents of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, challenging U.S. intelligence that claimed Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. Those claims proved false.

When France has been willing to intervene in foreign conflicts—sending troops into Mali, a former French colony, this year to oust Islamist militants, and pairing up with the U.K. in bombing missions over Libya in 2011—Paris successfully pressed the United Nations for resolutions backing its missions.

The painstaking step of getting the U.N.’s imprimatur became a cornerstone of French foreign policy, especially when dealing with former colonies.

In Syria, where France ruled in the wake of World War I, French officials initially insisted on the need for securing a U.N. mandate for any military action as well.

In recent days, however, Mr. Hollande has begun to edge away from that position, arguing that international law should “evolve with the times” rather than shielding alleged brutality.

“We’re seeing a return of France as the faithful ally,” said Jean-Pierre Maulny, a military analyst with the Paris-based IRIS think tank.

In his interview with Le Monde, Mr. Hollande batted down a question as asking whether he was siding with American “neoconservatives” in supporting potential Syria strikes.

“The Iraq operation aimed to bring down the regime. The response we expect in Syria has nothing to do with that,” Mr. Hollande said.

The French leader echoed the Obama administration in saying the goal of the potential strikes in Syria is to create a “deterrent” to future use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

Mr. Hollande can decide to intervene in Syria without seeking parliamentary approval. The French government must inform lawmakers about any foreign military action within three days, and has said it would brief them about the situation in Syria during an emergency parliamentary session on Wednesday.

If it intervenes in Syria, France is expected to use missiles that can be fired from fighter jets and hit targets more than 150 miles away, French officials said. The French government has ruled out sending troops to Syria.

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