Germany weighs Syria options after U.K. 'no' vote

Aug. 30, 2013 at 5:18 PM
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BERLIN, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces tough choices if U.S. President Barack Obama goes ahead with a military strike on Syria to limit President Bashar Assad's tactical options in his government's ongoing battle with opposition groups.

A U.N. team is gathering information on an Aug. 21 chemical attack on civilians in Syria and is due to report its findings to determine Assad's involvement in the attack. U.S. and U.K. officials say they are convinced the Assad regime was behind the attack.

Merkel is seeking re-election in a vote Sept. 22. German analysts say Merkel hopes her options in support of Obama's action, before or after the vote, will not go beyond token support measures in a U.S.-led military campaign or, preferably, just words.

Germany abstained from taking part in the NATO-led campaign that toppled Moammar Gadhafi from power in Libya in 2011. To date, German politicians and military analysts still differ on the wisdom of abstention.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's parliamentary defeat on a Syrian intervention motion was received in Berlin with a more or less equal measure of dismay and relief, analysts say, with many Germans relieved they have a justification for staying out of any military intervention in Syria.

In contrast, French President Francois Hollande told Le Monde Friday the vote debacle in London would not stop him from acting alongside the United States in "punishing" Assad for an alleged government-led chemical weapons attack.

French parliamentarians are due to debate Syria Wednesday but, unlike Cameron, Hollande already has presidential authority to join a strike on Syria, reported.

Asked by Le Monde if France could take action without Britain, Hollande replied: "Yes. Each country is sovereign to participate or not in an operation. That is valid for Britain as it is for France.

"There are few countries that have the capacity to inflict a sanction by the appropriate means. France is one of them. We are ready. We will decide our position in close liaison with our allies," Hollande said, reported.

In Berlin, Merkel's choices have been limited by the impending election and speculation remains rife about how, and how much, Germany will be asked to contribute to any allied effort on Syria.

Coming as it does just weeks before the election, the development creates "discomfort" for Merkel as well her Social Democrat challenger Peer Steinbrueck, Der Spiegel Online said.

Two-thirds of Germans are said to oppose an international military intervention in Syria.

Military experts told Der Spiegel Germany could be asked to provide some support but the German army is already said to be overstretched.

The Bundeswehr followed U.S. and NATO forces to deploy in Afghanistan, Kosovo and along Turkey's border with Syria, where Bundeswehr troops man Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries in a NATO operation.

Bundeswehr has no bases in the area, unlike Britain with its large military presence in Cyprus, which cannot now be relied upon.

Military analysts say some U.K. facilities may still be put into the service of a U.S.-led operation under a NATO flag.

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