Europe united in not supporting a US attack on Syria

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, went to the capital of Lithuania Vilnius, where she participated in the informal meeting of EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs with Linas Antanas Linkevičius, Lithuanian Minister for Foreign Affairs. In the press conference after the meeting Ashton took her distances from the Lithuanian Minister as in the photograph. (EC Audiovisual Services, 07/09/2013).

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, went to the capital of Lithuania Vilnius, where she participated in the informal meeting of EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs with Linas Antanas Linkevičius, Lithuanian Minister for Foreign Affairs. In the press conference after the meeting Ashton took her distances from the Lithuanian Minister as in the photograph. (EC Audiovisual Services, 07/09/2013).

The Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevičius, whose country is currently holding the rotating president of the EU Council, during the workings of last Saturday’s informal meeting of the 28 Foreign Affairs ministers in Vilnius supported so openly and provocatively the US positions on Syria, to the point that only his tiny and deeply anti-Russian country could afford doing this. He appeared so convinced that the chemical weapons used against the Syrian civilian population on 21 August,  killing hundreds of people including children and women, were hurled by Bashar al-Assad’s government forces that not even the American Foreign Secretary John Kerry, who participated in the EU Council, wouldn’t have dared to be so positive.

It is usual that the ‘king’s men’ are some times more royalist than the king himself. Linkevičius told his 27 peers, many of whom are not convinced about who is behind this atrocity and oppose a military intervention in Syria, that there is “…growing evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was behind the chemical attack…”. What else the American Secretary present there wanted to hear? The Council however didn’t follow the Lithuanian Presidency and remained very sceptical about the ‘wisdom’ of a military intervention in Syria.

The aggressive Lithuanian

After the meeting EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, who actually chaired it while the Lithuanian ‘presided’, didn’t follow the same strong line against Damascus as Linkevičius and she stated that, “It seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks as it is the only one that possesses chemical weapons agents and means of their delivery in a sufficient quantity”. Two verbs (it seems, to indicate) and an adjective (sufficient) made the whole difference, by watering down certainty.

As a matter of fact the Council was not at all ready to accept the US proposal for a military hit. In view of that Ashton in her statement said that “The EU underscores at the same time the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process”. On the contrary the Lithuanian Presidency’s Press release issued after the meeting didn’t follow this crystal clear position of the EU Council and avoided to include it in its text.

Misreporting EU Council’s decision

It is obvious that the Lithuanian government  in this way misreported the decision of the Council and made it appear closer to what the Americans wanted the EU to decide. The President of the European Council Herm Van Rompuy must hold the Vilnius government accountable about this flagrant distortion of the decision of this informal meeting of EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs (Gymnich) on 6 and 7 September.

The truth is that the EU Council supported the UN procedures all the way through. Understandably the core of the EU ministers’ decision is that Europe adheres to the UN lines of action on Syria and clearly doesn’t support an American intervention. Actually the Council followed in this issue the position of the French President Francois Hollande. Ashton was adamant on that when she stated, “We note the ongoing UN investigation on the 21st of August attack and further investigations on other chemical weapons attacks carried out in this conflict. (We hope) a preliminary report of this first investigation can be released as soon as possible and welcome President Hollande‘s statement to wait for this report before any further action”.

Paris meets Berlin

This is an obvious change of course by France, with Paris now being closer to Berlin’s views about this serious affair. The German Chancellor Angel Merkel during the G20 meeting of Saint Petersburg last weekend put a lot of efforts to reconcile Obama and Putin on this issue. Herself though was openly in favour of a political solution in Syria while speaking to both of them. At the end she didn’t endorse the US drafted ‘joint declaration’ authorising the US to use military force against Damascus.

All in all Europe is now more united over Syria’s future than some weeks ago. The British Prime Minister David Cameron, after suffering a painful defeat when the House of Commons voted down his proposal for a UK military attack on Damascus, is now offering only oral support to the Americans. France, which was even more aggressive than Britain at the beginning, is now following the UN Security Council’s decision to block military action against Damascus. Only the Americans insist that there is no a UNSC decision. Washington accuses the UN for being paralytic just because the Organisation doesn’t follow the US policy lines.

It remains to be seen if the Americans themselves will be equally aggressive in the field of action as they are in words. The Congress is to decide today on the Obama’s proposal for an American hit. If the legislators protract the decision-making procedure the message will be that Washington rather prefers to think twice before attacking.


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