Syrian focus is on weapons, London says

Sept. 17, 2013 at 12:04 PM   |   Comments

PARIS, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- The immediate debate over the Syrian crisis is focused on chemical weapons not regime change, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday.

A U.N. report published Monday confirmed the chemical nerve agent sarin was used during an August attack on a suburb in Damascus. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said chemical weapons were used "on a relatively large scale" and were delivered by surface-to-surface rockets.

Washington said the attack came from government-held territory and targeted rebel strongholds. A U.N. weapons inspections team was not mandated to assess blame for the Aug. 21 attack.

Hague told BBC Radio Four's Today program Tuesday the Syrian government was believed to have the largest chemical weapons stockpile in the world. The immediate focus was on those weapons.

"We've always made clear that the response to chemical weapons is about chemical weapons," he said. "It's not about regime change in Syria."

Hague said the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be coaxed into verifying and destroying its weapons arsenal in a U.N. Security Council he expected would be tabled in a matter of "days not weeks."

Verifiable destruction of Syria's weapons would be a "very difficult task" that requires Russian consent and Syrian cooperation, Hague said.

The Russian government said it believes the Aug. 21 attack was a rebel move to pressure the international community to take military action. Hague said, however, there would be no British boots on the ground in Syria.

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