PARIS — The U.S. tried to rally support on Saturday for a military strike against Syria, running into resistance from the American public and skeptics in Congress and from European allies bent on awaiting a U.N. report about a chemical attack they acknowledge strongly points to the Assad government.
President Barack Obama prepared for a national address Tuesday night as a growing number of lawmakers, including fellow Democrats, opposed the use of force. The American public didn’t yet appear persuaded by Obama’s argument that action is needed to deter the future use of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, a U.S. official released a DVD compilation of videos showing victims of the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with more than two dozen European foreign ministers on Saturday, insisted that international backing to take strong action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime was growing, not receding.
Kerry noted that the ministers, who held an informal meeting of the European Union in Vilnius, Lithuania, made powerful statements condemning the attack, and that increasingly there was a sense of conviction that Assad was to blame. Kerry said the U.S. had agreed to provide additional information to those ministers who were not yet convinced that Assad orchestrated the attack.
The EU endorsed a “clear and strong response” to a chemical weapons attack but didn’t indicate what type of response they were backing. It also said that evidence strongly points to the Syrian government. Still, the EU urged the U.S. to delay possible military action until U.N. inspectors report their findings.
The Europeans were divided on whether military action would be effective. Britain’s Parliament has voted against military action. France had been ready to act last week but held off when Obama declared that he would seek the backing of Congress. French President Francois Hollande’s announcement appeared to catch French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius off guard.
Earlier on Friday, Fabius told EU foreign ministers that there was no need to wait for the U.N. report because it would simply confirm what was already known — that the chemical weapons attack had occurred — but would not say who was responsible.
Hollande indicated Saturday that the U.N. report could be ready in a matter of days, and he would then be prepared to make a decision on a French intervention.
“I said ... that I wanted to wait for the inspectors’ report, which I know will be ready within a very reasonable time period, that is, not that far from the decision of the U.S. Congress,” he told French television after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in Nice, France. “So, at that moment, I’ll have all the necessary elements that will let me tell the French people the decision I have made for France.”
However, Martin Nesirky, chief U.N. spokesman, insisted that there would be no preliminary report.
The report on the Aug. 21 attack will be given to the U.N. Security Council and other member states once the lab analysis is complete, Nesirky said.
“We are not saying when that will be, except as soon as feasible,” he told The Associated Press. “This is a scientific timeline, not a political timeline.”