David Cameron spoke to Barack Obama yesterday about the situation in Syria. A Number 10 spokesman gave the following read-out of the call:
‘They are both gravely concerned by the attack that took place in Damascus on Wednesday and the increasing signs that this was a significant chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people. The UN Security Council has called for immediate access for UN investigators on the ground in Damascus. The fact that President Assad has failed to co-operate with the UN suggests that the regime has something to hide.
‘They reiterated that significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community and both have tasked officials to examine all the options. They agreed that it is vital that the world upholds the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons and deters further outrages. They agreed to keep in close contact on the issue.
‘The Prime Minister also spoke to Prime Minister Harper who agreed that the situation was extremely troubling and that the international community must respond appropriately.’
William Hague had already said that he believed this was a chemical attack by the regime against Syrians, but the significant line in this statement is ‘significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community’ and the agreement between Obama and Cameron that the world must deter further outrages. Much has been made of the flexibility of Obama’s ‘red line’ on chemical weapons, and it is essential that the leaders do not give the impression to Assad that he can use such weapons without censure.
While a ‘serious response’ is unlikely to involve troops on the ground, there are other options, such as air strikes. And on a political level, Cameron must tread carefully as so many in his party are opposed to military intervention. Bob Stewart told Sky News this morning that Parliament should be recalled if military action is on the cards. And before the summer recess, a number of Tory MPs were warning that intervention could lead to enough letters going to 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
All of these domestic concerns are of course nothing compared to the incredibly complex international picture, with Iran warning this morning of ‘severe consequences’ of ‘any crossing of Syria’s red line’ by the US. But it’s worth noting that while there is little dispute that something must be done, forging an agreement on what that something is will still be a mighty task.
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