Britain Votes Against Syria Action

Cameron told parliament Thursday it was "unthinkable" that Britain would launch military action against Syria to punish and deter it from chemical weapons use if there was strong opposition at the United Nations Security Council. | Reuters/ UK Parliament

Cameron told parliament Thursday it was “unthinkable” that Britain would launch military action against Syria to punish and deter it from chemical weapons use if there was strong opposition at the United Nations Security Council. | Reuters/ UK Parliament

President Barack Obama’s effort to build international support for military action in Syria faced fresh delays Thursday, as the British parliament voted against participation and Prime Minister David Cameron pledged not to override its decision. Obama said in an interview on Wednesday he was “certain” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible an alleged chemical weapons attack on residents of a Damascus suburb, and that he and allies were weighing a military response.

“It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action,” Cameron said. “I get that and the government will act accordingly.”

Cameron had said earlier that it would be legal to take military action against Syria even if the Security Council denied authorization for such action. His government’s intelligence committee said it had confirmed that a chemical attack took place in Syria last week, and that intelligence suggests it is “highly likely” that government forces were responsible.

Cameron recalled parliament in an emergency session Thursday, where he told lawmakers it’s likely that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been “testing the boundaries” with at least 14 incidents of chemical weapons use.

Cameron said, “We must do the right thing in the right way” while ensuring that any action is proportionate, legal and designed to deter chemical weapons use.

Parliament’s decision will be seen as a severe rebuff for Cameron, who had recalled parliament from its summer recess to vote on the issue.

Earlier on Thursday, envoys from the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China gathered at UN headquarters in New York to discuss the possibility of military intervention. The meeting was called by the Russian delegation, and ended with no statement from the participants.

A similar meeting on Wednesday ended after more than an hour with no agreement.

Obama, who had earlier made the case for a limited punishment action to deter the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons, consulted with House Speaker John Boehner Thursay on a proposed course of action.

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