By Matthew Barrett
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David Cameron has endorsed a warning by President Obama that the threat of chemical weapons being used in Syria would cause them to "revisit their approach so far", the Guardian reports today.
On Monday, Mr Obama said:
"We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people. We've been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised."
The Guardian also notes the conversation between Cameron and President Hollande, in which a Downing Street spokesman said…
"The Prime Minister said that he and President Hollande were 100 per cent in agreement as they discussed political, humanitarian and military issues affecting the country and the wider region. They discussed how to build on the non-lethal support recently announced by the UK and agreed that France and the UK would work more closely to identify how they could bolster the opposition and help a potential transitional Syrian government after the inevitable fall of Assad."
A different tone to the two Presidents: Hollande focuses on "non-lethal support" to the Syrian rebels, while Obama sets out his "red line" on intervention. This gives us the opportunity to re-visit the Syrian situation.
- By my reckoning, this is the first time the Obama administration or our Government has sounded pretty open to Bush-style military interventions outside any UN consensus.
- Could this be electioneering on Obama's part? It seems a strange move for such a nakedly political President to make without some consideration for the politics of it all. The American public is very war-weary, but perhaps Obama feels the need to strengthen his right flank.
- The quixotic Kofi Annan has left his position as the UN and Arab League's Envoy to Syria. He is instead replaced by Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat. Could his appointment see the Arab League do more to oust Assad?
- Russia shows no sign of ceasing its support for the Assad regime. Only today, Russia is attacking the West for "openly instigating" opposition groups to take up arms against Assad. Russia defends its pro-Assad stance by saying it is against any foreign intervention in a country without UN consent.
All this considered, Russia does not look likely to join any non-UN talks on the future of Syria. And if the UN could have found a resolution on Syria, why would it not have done so by now? So Cameron and Obama will have calculated that they must bypass Russian consent if they ever want to remove Assad, and therefore started talking about "red lines" for intervention.
It isn't clear how military intervention could be undertaken in any serious way in Syria, or what objective British, American and any other troops could be expected to achieve (and, for our part, in what kind of number could troops be deployed? 10,000? Fewer?).
Nevertheless, the Obama-Cameron phone calls and Mr Obama's statements in recent days will be a little welcome news for those who have lost patience with the UN, and want to end the Assad regime as soon as possible. Although there is no commitment to intervene, and no indication of any planning for an intervention, we at least know what the two leaders consider to be a crime worthy of intervention in Syria.