British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday that the United Kingdom would not participate in any military action against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons until United Nations inspectors report on their findings and the matter is taken to the U.N. Security Council. Cameron also said that Parliament would have to approve any such action.
“Because of the damage done to public confidence by Iraq, we would have to follow a series of incremental steps, including at the United Nations, to build public confidence and assure the maximum possible legitimacy for any action,” Cameron said during a British parliamentary debate on Syria.
Cameron argued that the U.K. should act to “degrade” the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capabilities and to “deter” it from using them in the future. “The case for ultimately supporting action is not based on a specific piece, or pieces of intelligence,” he said. “The fact the Syrian government has and has used chemical weapons is beyond doubt.”
But, he said his government would follow a process before taking part in any military action. “I want to be very clear about the process we follow,” Cameron assured his fellow Members of Parliament. “The weapons investigators in Damascus must complete their work. They should brief the United Nations Security Council. A genuine attempt should be made at a condemnatory chapter 7 resolution backing all necessary measures. Then and only then can we have another vote in this House of British involvement in direct military action.”
“No action can be taken until we hear from the U.N. weapons inspectors,” he said, adding, “No decision about military action has been taken. It would require another vote in this house.”
The British timeline for potential military strikes in Syria doesn’t appear to match up with the American one, as senior American officials have reportedly said that military action could happen as soon as this week.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the inspectors wouldn’t finish their work until Friday and he wouldn’t receive their findings until at least Saturday.
Momentum is building in Congress to push the White House to get congressional approval for military action in Syria but there is currently no indication the Obama administration will do anything more than consult with the House and Senate.
“I was pleased to hear Secretary Kerry say that the administration is consulting with Congress as response options — including potential military options — are being considered,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-CA) said according to the New York Times. “Absent an imminent threat to United States national security, the U.S. should not be engaged in military action without Congressional approval.”
While the American and British timelines for potential military action in Syria don’t appear to be in sync, it seems that Cameron and President Obama are on the same page on their over all strategy: prevent Assad from again using chemical weapons while working toward a political solution to the Syrian civil war.
“If, in fact, we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war, trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again,” Obama said on Wednesday, adding, “And we hope that, in fact, ultimately, a political transition can take place inside of Syria, and we’re prepared to work with anybody – the Russians and others – to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict.”
And Cameron, during Thursday’s parliamentary debate, echoed Obama. “We must ensure that any action if it is to be taken is proportionate, legal and specifically designed to deter the use of chemical weapons,” he said. “We must ensure any action supports and is accompanied by a renewed effort to forge a political solution and relieve humanitarian suffering in Syria.”