France is still seeking a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Thursday, adding that diplomatic negotiations were a priority over possible military action.
A suspected chemical attack by government forces in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province earlier this week, which killed at least 70 people, has sparked widespread criticism, including from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Ayrault told CNEWS television that France was pursuing a U.N. resolution condemning the attack and trying to convince allies to back it, in spite of pushback from Russia.
“France is still seeking to talk with its partners on the Security Council, especially the permanent members, and Russia in particular,’’ Ayrault said.
He was more cautious on whether or not France, one of the main backers of the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, would contemplate a military intervention if the U.S. decided to take action.
He noted that U.S. has ruled out stepping in for now.
Trump said on Wednesday that Assad’s government had gone “beyond a red line” with the poison attack on civilians, but did not detail how he might respond.
U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned that countries “could be compelled to act.”
“The first stage is to get a resolution vote and above all to re-start peace negotiations in Geneva.
“It is not to go in ourselves, under the pretext that the U.S. President may have a rush of blood to the head, and get onto a war footing,’’ Ayrault said.
Ayrault added that the U.S. response on Syria was still unclear and that he was getting mixed messages from his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
“They’re not saying the same thing,’’ he said.
France has repeatedly said that Assad cannot be part of a credible solution on Syria as part of peace talks and along with Britain renewed its call this week for the Syrian president to leave office.
“His crimes cannot remain unpunished. The day will come when international justice will have its say on Bashar al-Assad,’’ Ayrault said.
NAN reports that Britain, France and the U.S. on Wednesday held off calling a vote at the UN Security Council on a resolution demanding an investigation of the suspected chemical attack in Syria to allow time for negotiations with Russia.
However, a vote on the draft text presented by the Western trio could be held as early as Thursday, diplomats said.
Diplomats at the UN Security council sparred on Wednesday over whether to hold Assad’s government responsible for the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people in northern Syria, while US intelligence officials, Doctors Without Borders and the UN healthy agency said evidence pointed to nerve gas exposure.
The Trump administration and other world leaders said the Syrian government was to blame, but Moscow, a key ally of Assad, said the assault was caused by a Syrian airstrike that hit a rebel stockpile of chemical arms.
Earlier Wednesday, Russia rejected a draft resolution as “categorically unacceptable,” suggesting it is ready to veto the measure if no compromise text is agreed.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters that “the negotiations continue with our colleagues on the Security Council and I would not anticipate them coming to a conclusion today.”