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Terrorism & Security

Britain to UN: 'live up to your responsibilities' on Syria

As the US prepares a potential military strike on Syria, British Prime Minister Cameron announced he will make a renewed push for the UN Security Council to protect civilians.

By Staff writer / August 28, 2013

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at Number 10 Downing Street in London August 27, 2013. Cameron said on Tuesday that a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria was 'absolutely abhorrent' and necessitated action from the international community with Britain considering a 'proportionate response.'

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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Amid US preparations for possible military strikes against the Syrian regime, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Britain make another push for the United Nations Security Council to authorize "necessary measures to protect civilians" in the war-torn country from chemical weapon attacks.

Mr. Cameron announced in a series of posts on Twitter that Britain "has drafted a resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack by [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad & authorising necessary measures to protect civilians. The resolution will be put forward at a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council later today in New York."

"We've always said we want the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria," he wrote. "Today they have an opportunity to do that."

The Guardian reports that Cameron's move was made to secure support from Britain's opposition Labour party for a Thursday vote in Parliament to authorize military action in Syria. Labour announced earlier today that it would only back such action if it had "clear legal basis."

A party spokesman said: "We have made it clear that we want to see a clear legal basis for any action. As part of the legal justification, Labour is seeking the direct involvement of the United Nations through the evidence of the weapons inspectors and consideration by the security council."

But the likelihood of success of the British resolution seems dim.

While the US, Britain, and France have all spoken in favor of a military response to the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons on its civilian population, their fellow members of the security council, China and Russia, remain adamantly opposed. Russia warned that Western action in Syria on "unproven excuses" could have "catastrophic consequences," The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday. And Bloomberg writes that an editorial in today's People’s Daily newspaper, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, said that action should not take place until investigations were complete.

The US and its allies will also lack explicit support from the Arab League, which on Tuesday condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria but did not speak in favor of intervention, reports The New York Times. The absence of Arab League support "leav[es] President Obama without the broad regional support he had for his last military intervention in the Middle East, in Libya in 2011."

Behind the scenes at least two closely allied Arab heavyweights, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, may be split over which enemy poses the greater immediate threat to their regional interests: the Sunni Islamists who dominate the Syrian rebels, or the Shiite Iranian backers of Mr. Assad.

The Arab League, a regional diplomatic forum that has already expelled Mr. Assad’s government, said in its statement that it holds “the Syrian regime responsible for this heinous crime,” but the statement also appeared to suggest that the specific “perpetrators” were not yet known and should be brought to international justice.

Stopping short of endorsing Western intervention, the league called on the UN Security Council to “overcome the disagreements between its members” so it could “take the necessary deterring measures against the perpetrators of this crime, whose responsibility falls on the Syrian regime,” and end other abuses that “the Syrian regime has been committing.”

The Daily Telegraph writes that the US is preparing its case for action against Syria in a report being compiled by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, which could be released as early as Thursday. The Telegraph notes that the report could draw from a number of pieces of intelligence, including an alleged "intercepted telephone call made by a panicking official at the Syrian Ministry of Defence following the chemical weapons attack" and "satellite images that purport to show that continued shelling by the Assad regime was obliterating evidence of chemical weapon use."

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US justification also includes reports from Israeli spy services:

[Israeli intelligence] provided the Central Intelligence Agency with intelligence from inside an elite special Syrian unit that oversees Mr. Assad's chemical weapons, Arab diplomats said. The intelligence, which the CIA was able to verify, showed that certain types of chemical weapons were moved in advance to the same Damascus suburbs where the attack allegedly took place a week ago, Arab diplomats said.

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