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Sparrow writes: "Britain will try to get the United Nations security council to authorisemilitary intervention in Syria, David Cameron has said."

Syrian children have been shot at, tortured and raped during two years of unrest and civil war. (photo: Reuters)
Syrian children have been shot at, tortured and raped during two years of unrest and civil war. (photo: Reuters)

Britain Will Seek UN Clearance for Military Action Against Syria

By Andrew Sparrow, Guardian UK

28 August 13


David Cameron says UK will put forward resolution at security council 'authorising necessary measures to protect civilians'

ritain will try to get the United Nations security council to authorise military intervention in Syria, David Cameron has said.

He made the announcement on Twitter after the Labour party decided overnight to toughen its stance on the issue, making support for the government in Thursday's Commons vote conditional on Cameron's seeking the involvement of the UN.

But Downing Street sources said approaching the UN had always been part of the government's plan, and denied Labour had bounced Cameron into acting.

One Liberal Democrat source said the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, had been particularly keen to take the matter to the UN, and that when Cameron, Clegg and the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, met to discuss Syria on Tuesday afternoon Clegg was the first person to raise the importance of trying to secure UN support.

Cameron said Britain would put forward a resolution at a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN security council on Wednesday afternoon condemning the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and "authorising necessary measures to protect civilians".

Previously the government has in public played down the need for a debate at the security council, where Russia and China have been staunch opponents of anti-Assad initiatives. But, in one of three tweets on the subject, Cameron said he wanted the UN to "live up to its responsibilities on Syria".

Earlier, Downing Street confirmed that Cameron spoke to the US president, Barack Obama, on Tuesday night, before a meeting of Britain's National Security Council (NSC) at which defence chiefs will outline a series of arms-length options for targeted attacks against Syria.

Although Downing Street said Cameron and Obama had not yet agreed on the "specific nature" of their response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, it is understood that they are planning limited missile attacks before the end of the week.

Cameron has recalled parliament to allow MPs to vote on the matter on Thursday. On Tuesday afternoon, after Ed Miliband had met Cameron to discuss the matter, Labour indicated that it would be willing to support the government, provided military action was legal and proportionate.

But early on Wednesday morning Labour said it was making its support for the government dependent on new conditions.

A party spokesman said: "We have made it clear that we want to see a clear legal basis for any action. As part of the legal justification, Labour is seeking the direct involvement of the United Nations through the evidence of the weapons inspectors and consideration by the security council."

This raised the possibility that Labour could refuse to back the government's motion on Thursday, perhaps voting for its own motion instead, although the party said it would not take a decision until the text of the government's motion was available, later on Wednesday.

The British and American governments have until now dismissed suggestions that military action should be delayed until the UN weapons inspectors in Damascus have reported, arguing that it is already obvious that chemical weapons were used and that the inspectors' report will not say which side was responsible for their deployment.

Cameron's move goes some way to meeting Labour concerns. In response, a Labour source said: "This is one necessary step. We will continue to scrutinise any proposed action to ensure there is a proper legal base."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Britain has drafted a resolution condemning the attack by the Assad regime, and authorising all necessary measures under chapter 7 of the UN charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons.

"The resolution will be put forward at a meeting of the five permanent members of the security council later today in New York."

Government insiders admit it is unlikely that Russia and China will support the British motion, although they will not be drawn on how the government would respond if the Russians and Chinese tried to delay debate until the UN weapons inspectors' report.

A Labour source rejected suggestions that Miliband had changed his stance late on Tuesday night. He said Miliband had met Cameron and Clegg on Tuesday afternoon to be briefed by them on the Syrian situation and that after that meeting he said any government action would have to be legal.

Later, Miliband had decided to spell out in more detail what being legal meant, the source said, and Milband had then informed Cameron, in two separate calls to Downing Street, of the importance he was attaching to UN security council involvement and taking note of what was the weapons inspectors said.

In a speech on Tuesday Joe Biden, the US vice-president, said there was "no doubt" that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. He said: "Those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women, and children … must be held accountable."

After Cameron's conversation with Obama overnight ,Downing Street said: "Both leaders agreed that all the information available confirmed a chemical weapons attack had taken place, noting that even the Iranian president and Syrian regime had conceded this."

A No 10 spokesman went on: "They both agreed they were in no doubt that the Assad regime was responsible. Regime forces were carrying out a military operation to regain that area from the opposition at the time, and there is no evidence that the opposition has the capability to deliver such a chemical weapons attack.

"The PM confirmed that the government had not yet taken a decision on the specific nature of our response, but that it would be legal and specific to the chemical weapons attack."

Cameron chairs a meeting of the NSC at midday. At the meeting, General Sir Nick Houghton, chief of the defence staff, is expected to tell ministers the UK could assist US forces with cruise missile strikes launched from submarines, warships and aircraft against targets such as command-and-control bunkers.

Coalition MPs will be under a three-line whip on Thursday, meaning that they will be under orders to back the government. Although some backbenchers have reservations about military action, most government MPs are expected to support the motion, and on Tuesday it looked as though Cameron could win Labour backing, too.

On Tuesday afternoon, Miliband said Labour would "consider supporting international action, but only on the basis that it was legal, that it was specifically limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons and that any action contemplated had clear and achievable military goals". But Wednesday's call for UN involvement suggests Labour could decide to abstain.

A poll for YouGov in Wednesday's Sun shows that 50% of Britons are opposed to attacking Syria with long-range missiles, and that only 25% are in favour.

On the Today programme Lord West, the former Labour security minister and a former first sea lord, said he was "extremely nervous" about military intervention.

"An attack is extremely dangerous," he said. "You cannot predict what will happen. You have to ask yourself: will it actually further our global security or will it help the wellbeing of the Syrian people?

"What if he [Assad] reacts to it? Clearly, if he is actually using chemical weapons against his own people, one has to think he is slightly unhinged. What might he do? And then what do you do in response?"

The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, also urged caution.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he said: "The things which MPs will have to bear in mind in what is going to be a very, very difficult debate is, firstly: are we sure about the facts on the ground?

"Secondly: is it possible to have a carefully calibrated response, including armed force, if you are sure about the facts on the ground, that does not have unforeseeable ramifications across the whole Arab and Muslim world?" your social media marketing partner
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