Hague threatens to bypass UN Security Council

Russia warns of ‘extremely dangerous’ consequences of military intervention

Syrian activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus, last week. Photograph: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

Syrian activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region, in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus, last week. Photograph: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters


The West hardened its stance against the Assad regime yesterday, with Britain accusing the UN Security Council of shirking its responsibility to Syria. Russia, however, warned that any military intervention without UN Security Council approval would be “a gross violation of international law”.

As UN inspectors visited one of the sites of last week’s chemical attack, British foreign secretary William Hague reiterated his call for intervention, telling the BBC that Britain could intervene without UN council backing, while remaining in line with international law.

“Whatever we do will be in accordance with international law ... The United Nations Security Council ... has not been united on Syria; it’s not shouldered its responsibilities on Syria, bluntly, otherwise there would have been a better chance of bringing the conflict to an end a long time ago.”

China and Russia, who are likely to veto any UN council move to authorise punitive action against Syria, both reiterated their opposition to military intervention in the region yesterday.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, warned the US and its allies were on a “slippery slope” that would have “extremely dangerous” consequences for the region.

‘Gross violation’
At a specially convened press conference on Syria in Moscow yesterday, Lavrov said any military intervention without UN approval would be “a gross violation of international law”.

“The Syrian government had absolutely no military or political reason to use chemical weapons,” he said, arguing that it was more likely a ploy by rebels eager to encourage international intervention.

The Russian foreign ministry said Mr Lavrov had expressed Russia’s opposition to military intervention to US secretary of state John Kerry by phone on Sunday night, outlining the “deep alarm” that existed in Russia over US indications it may use military force.

Turkey added its voice to the growing number of countries in support of using force in Syria, with Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu pledging Turkey would join a “coalition” against Syria if the UN fails to act.

British prime minister David Cameron has cut short a holiday in Cornwall to deal with the crisis, and will chair a meeting of Britain’s national security council tomorrow.

But despite growing western consensus behind the idea of military intervention, the European Union stopped short of calling for further action against the Syrian regime.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU, which last week held an emergency meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Egypt, was awaiting the outcome of the UN investigation, scheduled to commence tomorrow.

Lady Ashton was in constant contact with her European colleagues and key international players, the spokesman said. He defended the European Union’s handling of the conflict in Syria, pointing out the European Union, at all levels, had been “very much involved in trying to find a solution to the Syrian crisis”.

While France and Britain have been leading calls for greater intervention in Syria for more than a year, other countries have resisted calls for military intervention. Germany, which is in the midst of a general election campaign, has consistently called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

German reaction
While political leaders from across the German political spectrum yesterday urged caution, a spokesman for chancellor Angela Merkel said that if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed, “Syria must be punished”.

Speaking shortly before a vehicle carrying a team of UN inspectors came under attack from unidentified snipers in Damascus, UN general secretary Ban Ki-Moon said there would be “no impunity” for the use of chemical weapons, saying the international community “owed it to the families of the victims to act”.