Obama and Putin set for G20 'collision' over Syria strike
US President secures support of Senate panel for intervention, but Russia and China harden opposition
THE Pentagon is considering using Air Force bombers as well as cruise missiles to strike a "shifting array" of military targets in Syria, the Wall Street Journal says.
As world leaders began gathering in St Petersburg for a G20 summit certain to be dominated by the Syria crisis, the paper says there is an "accelerating tempo towards US military action". Part of that momentum is the Pentagon's admission it may need to use bombers as well as missiles launched from Navy warships to hit targets which have been dispersed by the Assad regime.
Pentagon officials said initially they would not use aircraft in any strike on Syria.
The BBC says serious "rifts" over the appropriate response to the gas attack in Damascus on 21 August are certain to dominate the G20 summit. Indeed it has been reported that the seating plan for the meeting has been changed to put more room between Obama and Putin.
The US president enters the talks with a proposal for limited military action, which was approved by a Senate panel yesterday. The proposal, which goes to a full Senate vote next week, allows the use of force in Syria for 60 days with the option to extend it for a further 30 days. It must be approved by the US House of Representatives, which will also vote next week.
Obama's push for an intervention is certain to be opposed by the Assad regime's most powerful allies, Russia and China. President Putin has already said that any US action that is not sanctioned by a UN Security Council resolution will be considered "an aggression" by Moscow. That sets the scene for a "collision" between Obama and Putin in St Petersburg, The Guardian says.
Obama made his determination to take action on Syria clear last night on a stopover in Sweden. He denied that his credibility was at stake over the issue and said it was the world, not he, that had set a "red line" requiring military action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons.
"The world set a red line when governments representing 98 per cent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons was abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war," Obama said. "That was not something I just kind of made up, I did not pluck it out of thin air."
Putin has also made his position clear, suggesting Russia may resume supplying Syria with S-300 air defence systems if "steps are taken that violate the existing international norms…"
The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall points out that Obama will also struggle to get China onside. Beijing has "consistently vetoed attempts to impose pressure on the Assad government at the UN Security Council and repeatedly insisted that any solution must be political".
Speaking at a meeting in St Petersburg today China's vice-finance minister Zhu Guangyao said any military intervention would damage the global economy by causing a spike in oil prices.
Kendall says the stance of India and Indonesia is "less easy to identify" and traditional US allies such as Canada, Australia, South Korea and Germany are likely to offer "nuanced" support for action rather than full endorsement.
Here is a round-up of some of the other key developments:
New concerns about Syria's bio-weapons: The chemical attack near Damascus has "refocused attention" on Syria's 30-year-old biological weapons research and raised concerns about whether the Assad regime could make a bio-weapon, says the Washington Post. Although Syria's biological programme has been "largely dormant" since the 1980s, it is likely to possess the "key ingredients" for a weapon, including a collection of lethal bacteria and viruses as well as the modern equipment needed to covert them into deadly powders and aerosols, weapons experts told the paper. Syria's bio-weapons capability could "offer the Assad regime a way to retaliate because the weapons are designed to spread easily and leave few clues about their origins", the experts said.
Calls for Iran to be drawn into diplomatic process: Labour leader Ed Miliband told the Commons yesterday that Iran had to be invited to the negotiating table if any diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis is to be found. David Cameron pointed out that Iran had yet to take responsibility for an attack on the British Embassy in Tehran in 2011, but said he would put pressure on all countries to find a peaceful solution.
Could Iran be part of the peace process? Time notes that it supports the Assad regime diplomatically and militarily, but agrees its "pivotal position" in the crisis and its "painful history with chemical weapons" makes it key to any diplomatic solution. Indeed, "circumstances are something near ideal for drawing Iran into a diplomatic process," the magazine says. The key is the Islamic Republic's horrific experience with chemical weapons in its 1980–88 war with Iraq. Saddam Hussein's "unchecked use of mustard gas, cyanide and other chemical weapons" against Iranian troops left Tehran with "both a deep abhorrence of chemical weapons and a deep scepticism of the international community that did nothing to enforce the treaties banning their use". The question, says Time, is what Iran does with those feelings. ·