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Obama's bid to Congress on Syria part of push for consensus - U.N

by FP Staff  Sep 1, 2013 21:30 IST

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for possible military action against Syria can be seen as part of an effort to forge a global consensus on responding to the use of chemical arms anywhere, the U.N. said on Sunday.

The world body was responding to Obama's announcement on Saturday that he will ask for congressional consent before taking military action against Damascus for the attack which he blames on Syrian President Bash al-Assad's forces - a decision likely to delay any strike for at least nine days.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon views Obama's decision "as one aspect of an effort to achieve a broad-based international consensus on measures in response to any use of chemical weapons," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

"The use of chemical weapons will not be accepted under any circumstances," he added. "There should be no impunity and any perpetrators of such a horrific crime against humanity must be held accountable."

Nesirky said Ban spoke earlier on Sunday with Ake Sellstrom, head of the U.N. chemical weapons inspection team that left Syria on Saturday. Sellstrom is currently in The Hague preparing the analysis of samples and evidence collected at the site of the August 21 incident which left hundreds dead.

"In light of the horrendous magnitude of the 21 August incident ... the Secretary General asked Dr. Sellstrom to expedite the mission's analysis of the samples and information it had obtained without jeopardizing the scientific timeline required for accurate analysis."

U.N. diplomats told Reuters on Friday that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained to delegates from the five permanent Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - that it would take up to two weeks before the chemical inspectors' final report is ready.

The U.N. inspectors will determine only whether chemical weapons were used last week and in several other alleged poison gas attacks, not who used them. One they have completed their work on the August 21 incident the inspectors plan to return to Syria to investigate other alleged gas attacks, Nesirky said.

He said Ban also spoke on Sunday with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. France is Obama's chief ally in calling for military retaliation against Syria for the alleged August 21 poison gas attack, which Assad's government and its ally Russia have blamed on rebels.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said on Sunday that France will not launch an assault on Syria alone and will wait for the U.S. Congress to decide whether to punish Assad's government for a gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians.

Obama also said on Saturday that he was "comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that so far has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable."

Nesirky said Ban would likely brief the full 15-nation council on the situation in Syria in the coming week, possibly on Tuesday.

Russia, backed by China, has used its veto power in the Security Council three times to block resolutions condemning Assad's government and threatening it with sanctions. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Edith Honan; Editing by Sandra Maler)