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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

US, Britain and France must stick together on Syria chemical weapons attack, report warns

New report by British-based global security think tank IISS criticised Obama administration’s mixed messages on the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime

Medical staff treat a man suffering from breathing difficulties inside a hospital in Aleppo, Syria after a chemical attack. Aleppo Media Center via AP
Medical staff treat a man suffering from breathing difficulties inside a hospital in Aleppo, Syria after a chemical attack. Aleppo Media Center via AP

A report produced by a leading global security think tank has called for Britain, France and the United States to “stick together” to tackle Bashar Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The 33-page report produced by the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies argued that the three countries had failed to coordinate their policies in the lead up to the Syrian regime’s gas attack on Ghouta in 2013, which led to a disorganised response from the West to the deadly attack.

American president Barack Obama had previously said that use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for the US, issuing an ultimatum to Mr Al Assad that if he used such weapons, the US would intervene with force.

"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation," he said in 2011.

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The American decision not to strike despite releasing public statements blaming Mr Al Assad for using sarin during the attack on Ghouta, caused “unnecessary harm to the US–France relationship”.

France had been willing to use military action but felt let down by the US, who instead accepted a UN resolution negotiated with Russia, which led to Syria giving up its chemical weapons stockpiles for destruction. The deal also saw the Syrian government joining the Chemical Weapons Convention.

In the UK, military action in Syria was narrowly rejected in the House of Commons, with British politicians, wary of the backlash from the British intervention in Iraq years before, argued there was not sufficient evidence that the Syrian regime had been responsible for using sarin in Ghouta.

The IISS report, authored by Jeffrey Lewis Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, called on the three western permanent members of the UN Security Council to stand together on Syria.

“Despite the current problems, Britain, France and the United States need to stick together. Any solidarity among these three permanent members of the UN Security Council is an asset at a time when the unity of the West is being challenged from both within and without,” the report states.

It added that the other two permanent members of the UN security council, Russia and China, would be unlikely to authorise any measures to punish a chemical-weapons perpetrator, despite this being set up by a previous UN security council resolution.

The report comes days after Russia vetoed a UN security council resolution that would have extended the work of UN investigators who were probing chemical weapons attacks in Syria for 30 days.