Germany wants UN's Syria report sped up to heal splits
(AFP) Germany urged the United Nations on Friday "to speed up" release of its much-awaited report on the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria to help divided leaders determine a response in the coming weeks.
"My request is that we get as quickly as possible the results of the inspection team, that we have an independent statement by an independent neutral institution," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on arriving in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius for informal talks with his 27 European Union counterparts.
Europe stands sharply divided over US calls for military action against the Syrian regime in response to the deadly August 21 attack outside Damascus, with only France ready to take part, and Britain and Denmark in favour.
Most EU nations, along with emerging powers Brazil and India, and others, are reticent about resorting to military action without a mandate from the UN, while also fearing the "day-after" consequences for the region.
In Saint Petersburg, where he had attended the G20 summit, French President Francois Hollande vowed that France would wait for the UN report before launching any military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"Are we going to wait for the inspectors' report? Yes, we are going to wait for the inspectors' report as we are going to wait for the US Congress vote" on the proposed strikes, he said after the summit.
Westerwelle said that on the basis of information gleaned by British, French and US intelligence, "it is plausible that chemical weapons have been used in Syria" and also plausible that responsibility lay with Assad.
But some key world powers had doubts, he said.
"Therefore I think it is a good way to ask our colleagues in the United Nations to speed up with the exploration of the inspection team," he added.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose country was left Europe's odd man out at the two-day talks due to its determination to join a US-led military intervention, told AFP that Paris was hoping for a unanimous condemnation of the chemical attack.
The very least would be for the EU to secure an agreement that "condemns the usage of chemical weapons and (which) notes that the proof that we have been given shows that it was the regime of Bashar al-Assad which was behind the massacre", he said.
But his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt, one of Europe's most influential diplomats, said it was essential to wait for the report as it could establish details such as which weapons were used and the direction of the attack.
"It will be the best picture we can get from any source," he told reporters. "The Indians, the Brazilians, the Chinese and others don't really think that information from US intelligence is enough, and that's the world we live in."
Germany, Sweden and southern European nations Italy, Greece and Spain are all opposed to a military response to the suspected chemical attack.
But EU leaders bent on giving the bloc a single voice on the world scene are seeking to avoid flaunting their divisions in the open as in May, when Britain and France, determined to arm Syria's rebels, effectively put an end to an EU arms embargo.
"The question is whether there can be a European stand or whether Europe is incapable of taking a position," Fabius told AFP.
As Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn put it: "It is dramatic, for many countries, to have to choose between America and France on the one hand, who are an example in the interpretation of international law, and the UN's fundamental rules on the other."
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is expected to officially announce the final EU position on Saturday morning after the ministers meet US Secretary of State John Kerry.