France vows to join a strike on Syria after the United Kingdom withdrew its support to military action following strong public and parliamentary opposition. France finds itself with an unusual move by President Francois Hollande.
“The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished,” Hollande said in an interview with French daily Le Monde. “There are few countries with the capacities to inflict sanctions with the appropriate means,” he said. “France is among those. It is ready.”
Hollande later spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama about Syria. Details of the call were not disclosed.
President Obama feels compelled to send Syria’s President Assad a message over his alleged use of chemical weapons, says WSJ’s Adam Entous. But any military action risks sucking the U.S. deeper into the country’s civil war — an outcome Washington wants to avoid.
The pledge of military support from Hollande, who promised not to shirk from France’s military “responsibilities,” means the Obama administration can count on at least one major Western ally if it moves forward with plans to punish the Syrian regime for allegedly using chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack, which rebels say killed more than 1,000 people. The Assad regime has denied using chemical weapons.
Still, Hollande’s move carries big political risks at home. The French and U.S. governments may have turned the page on the Iraq war, but the French public remains deeply skeptical about U.S.-led military interventions. Recent polls show that public opinion is about evenly divided over France intervening in Syria–even with a U.N. mandate.
President Barack Obama’s push to assemble an international coalition was thrown into doubt Thursday after the U.K. government lost a parliamentary vote that would have supported in principle military intervention in Syria.
Germany on Friday also ruled out any participation, although it hadn’t been expected to join and hadn’t been asked, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin.
French backing helps Obama argue that the U.S. isn’t isolated.
“The fact that Britain won’t be there, makes it even more useful for France in terms of reiterating France as a global player and France’s usefulness to America as an ally,” said Daniel Levy, an analyst with the European Council of Foreign relations.
In flanking Washington, France completes a diplomatic and military about-face that has been a decade in the making, according to analysts. France has long been a close but skeptical ally, ceding the role of Washington favorite to the United Kingdom.