Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Kerry calls Syria gas attack a moral obscenity

US Secretary of State John Kerry has signalled his country's intent to act on Syria, describing the use of chemical weapons as a "moral obscenity" and pinning the Syrian government down as the culprit.

In a strongly worded and emotive statement on Monday, Kerry said that it was "undeniable" that chemical weapons killed hundreds of people last Wednesday near Damascus, adding that the Syrian government must be held accountable.

The statement came hours after a United Nations team visiting Syria was fired upon while they travelled to the attack site to begin investigations.

"By any standard it’s inexcusable ... It’s undeniable. This is about indiscriminate use of weapons that the world decided must never be used," Kerry said.

"The meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict in Syria itself. And that conflict has already brought so much terrible suffering. This is about the large-scale indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilised world long ago decided must never be used at all, a conviction shared even by countries that agree on little else.

"Anyone who could claim fabrication should check their moral compass," he said in reference to Syrian government's denials of any responsibility for the attack. “We know the regime has the capacity to do this."

He said that the belated response to allow UN inspections was "too late, and too late to be credible".

According to US law, President Barack Obama has the authority to launch air strikes against Syria, but he has to notify Congress first - a process which has begun, according to both sides.

"The administration is actively consulting with members of Congress, and we will continue to have these conversations in the days ahead," Kerry said in his statement on Syria.

The Republican speaker of the House Of Representatives, John Boehner, has had "preliminary communication with the White House about the situation in Syria and any potential US response," his spokesman, Brendan Buck, said.

"The speaker made clear that before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability," Buck said.

Warplanes in Cyprus
Kerry did not say what action the US administration would take, but said that Obama would be making an "informed decision about how to respond".

"He believes there must be accountability," Kerry said.

Meanwhile, warplanes and military transporters have been seen arriving at Britain's Akrotiri airbase on Cyprus, less than 160km from Syria's coastline, according to a report on the website of Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Two commercial pilots who fly from the city of Larnaca, near the base, told the Guardian they had seen C-130 transport planes from their cockpit windows and small formations of fighter jets on their radar screens, which they told the newspaper they believed had flown from Europe.

Residents also reported to the newspaper that there had been more activity around the base than usual. If Western powers were to launch attacks on Syria, Cyprus would likely be central to any air campaign.

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