PARIS – Emerging from a three-hour meeting with Arab foreign ministers, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said here on Sunday that Saudi Arabia would support a US military strike as a way to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons.
Saudi Arabia would be the second country to support a US-led strike, although it is unclear whether the Saudis would provide any military assistance in the strike. The other country that has announced its support is France.
“They have supported the strike, and they support taking action—they believe that it’s very important to do that,” Kerry said about Saudi Arabia during a press conference here following his meetings with nine Arab foreign ministers and Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby.
Kerry also had a one-on-one meeting on Sunday morning with Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.
Kerry, who arrived in London on Sunday afternoon and planned to have dinner with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is planning to fly back to Washington on Monday and provide a closed-door briefing for the entire US House. He will brief the Senate later in the week. Congressional votes on the proposal to launch strikes against Syria are slated to begin Wednesday.
“As a veteran of the congressional process, I’d just say to you that all of these early prognostications about how tough it is, or defeat here or whatever—I think are just that,” Kerry said during a press conference on Sunday in Paris. “They’re early, and they’re not completely accurate.”
“The vast majority of members of Congress, House and Senate, are undecided,” he added. “And that’s why…the briefings are taking place.”
Kerry also said he was pleased with the release of a new video that shows the suffering that Syrians faced from the use of chemical weapons.
“Those videos make it clear to people that these are real human beings, real children, parents being affected in ways that are unacceptable to anybody anywhere by any standards,” Kerry said. “And it is the United States of America that has always stood with others to say, ‘We will not allow this. This is not our values. This is not who we are.’”
“I don’t think this case has been made enough—to enough people,” he added.
“This is not fantasy land, this is not conjecture,” he said at another point. “Bashir Al Assad has used chemical weapons at least 11 times or so, according to our best judgments.”
Following the meeting with 10 Arab leaders, Kerry also said that “a number of countries” would within the next 24 hours would sign onto a strongly-worded statement that condemns the Syrian regime and calls on “a strong international response.” The statement, drafted by the United States and signed by 10 other countries at the Group of 20 summit, does not explicitly endorse military strikes. Germany on Saturday said it would sign on, and Qatar announced Sunday that it would, too.
“I don’t believe the international community, if it really wanted to protect peace and security, can afford to stand still while an unarmed people is being attacked with these weapons,” Qatari foreign minister Khalid Al-Attiya said during a press conference with Kerry.
“We call on all other countries to intervene to protect the Syrian people from what [they are] being subjected to,” he added.
Al-Attiya would not say whether Qatar would provide military assets for a strike, saying only that his government “is currently studying with its friends and the United Nations what it could provide in order to protect the Syrian people.”
It is still unclear is whether the United Nations will play a greater role.
French President François Hollande said on Friday that he wanted to wait for a preliminary report from the UN inspectors. On Saturday, he said that he could seek a vote by the UN Security Council to vote.
“The president and all of us are listening carefully to all of our friends,” Kerry said. “We will obviously take this under advisement and the president will make his decision at the appropriate period of time.”
The US has said the UN would be hamstrung from acting because Russia, one of Syria’s strongest allies, would use its veto power to block any effort. But the US also needs to appease France if it is to mount strikes in concert with other countries.
Kerry continued to make clear that any military strikes would be aimed at punishing Assad for using chemical weapons – and not at ousting him from office, even though the United States does want Assad to step down.
“The end of this civil war is going to require a political solution…there is no military solution,” Kerry said. “We are not seeking to become engaged in or party to, or takeover, Syria’s civil war.”
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com