LONDON – Citing "strong evidence" implicating the Syrian government in a recent chemical attack, the European Union called Saturday for a strong international response to prevent further such atrocities but urged that any action be taken through the United Nations.
Foreign ministers from the EU's 28 member nations, meeting in Lithuania, said that "the international community cannot remain idle" in the aftermath of the Aug. 21 gassing of a Damascus neighborhood held by rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"A clear and strong response is crucial to make clear that such crimes are unacceptable and that there can be no impunity," the ministers said in a collective statement. "We must prevent creating a dreadful precedent for the use of chemical weapons in Syria again or elsewhere."
But despite the presence of U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who joined the meeting in Vilnius, the EU declined to back a military strike without approval of such intervention by the U.N.
The ministers noted that U.N. inspectors would soon issue the findings of an investigation into the attack. They also welcomed a decision by French President Francois Hollande, a vocal advocate of a military strike against the Assad government, to wait for the inspectors' report before taking further action.
Even so, the EU said it seemed fairly clear that Assad's forces were responsible for the attack and not the rebels, as the government "is the only one that possesses chemical weapons agents and means of their delivery in a sufficient quantity."
The U.S. says that more than 1,400 people were killed in the attack. President Obama has been trying to rally international support for armed reprisals against the Assad government, but even close Western allies, such as Britain, have demurred in offering help or backing absent sanction from the U.N..
"The EU urges the U.N. Security Council to unite in its efforts to prevent any further chemical attack," European foreign ministers said. "To that effect, it encourages the [council] to fulfill its responsibilities and take all initiatives to achieve this goal."