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The United States is considering launching a punitive strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, blamed by the U.S. and the Syrian opposition for an Aug. 21 alleged chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus. The U.S. said the attack killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children. Those numbers are significantly higher than the death toll of 355 provided by the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
President Barack Obama said he has decided that the United States should take military action against Syria but is seeking congressional authorization for the use of force in a vote expected after Congress returns to work Sept. 9.
Here’s a look at key Syria developments around the world Monday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
Obama will host Sen. John McCain at the White House, hoping his opponent in the 2008 presidential election will help sell the idea of a U.S. military intervention in Syria to a nation scarred by more than a decade of war. The Obama administration is trying to rally support for the strike among Americans and their congressman and senators.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said information the U.S. showed Moscow to blame the Syrian regime for the alleged chemical weapons attack was “absolutely unconvincing.” He said Monday “there was nothing specific” in the evidence: “no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals.” He did not say what tests he was referring to.
The head of the U.N. refugee agency in Syria said 7 million Syrians, or almost one-third of the population, have been displaced by the country’s civil war. Tarik Kurdi told The Associated Press that 5 million of the displaced are still in Syria while about 2 million have fled to neighboring countries. Before the conflict’s outbreak Syria had a population of about 23 million people.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was scheduled to meet with the leaders of Parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committees. The prime minister’s office said Ayrault will give the lawmakers an update on Syria and show them a declassified report on Syria’s chemical weapons to back up France’s claim that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said his country urged the U.S. not to take unilateral action against Syria. He said Washington briefed Beijing about the matter and that China is concerned about chemical weapons use but that the country opposes the U.S. acting alone. Hong didn’t address the possibility of the U.S. acting together with France’s government, which supports a strike. Beijing would almost certainly be opposed to any strike.
Australia offered moral support for a military strike in Syria. Patrick Low, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s spokesman, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called last week and that Australia supports the U.S. taking action. He said Kerry didn’t ask for military assistance and Australia didn’t offer it. Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott defended his controversial weekend comments on the Syrian civil war. He had described both sides in the conflict as “baddies versus baddies.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her challenger in Germany’s upcoming election said late Sunday they wouldn’t participate in military action against Syria. Merkel said there must be “a collective answer by the U.N.” to the use of chemical weapons in Syria as she faced center-left rival Peer Steinbrueck in a televised debate. Steinbrueck said he wouldn’t participate in military action as chancellor and would “greatly regret it” if the U.S. strikes alone without an international mandate.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels he is convinced the Syrian government used chemical weapons and insisted a strong reaction is needed to show dictators that such weapons cannot be used with impunity. He said Monday that the alliance would defend Turkey if the member state is attacked in retaliation following a strike against Syria. NATO will remain a forum for allies to consult about action but Fogh Rasmussen did not envision any additional NATO role.
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