PARIS -- French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that he is seeking a coalition of European states to decide on the possibility of military intervention in Syria.
However, he said France would not go it alone if the U.S. Congress opposes an armed offensive against the government of President Bashar Assad.
Instead, he said an American “no” vote would force France to support the Syrian opposition, without providing details.
At a news conference after a meeting with German President Joachim Gauck, Hollande said Europe “must unite” over what to do in Syria in the wake of allegations that Assad’s government used chemical weapons against his own people -- a charge that the Syrian president denies. Hollande spoke of holding meetings with European allies gathered for the G20 economic conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, later this week.
“Europe must unite on this dossier and it will, each with its own responsibility. France will accept its role,” Hollande said, adding, “There will be a meeting of foreign ministers soon.”
Hollande said he had already spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and was in contact with “the main European heads of government.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron had supported President Obama’s call for military action against Syria, but dropped any plans for British participation after Parliament rejected his request for approval.
Asked what he would do if the U.S. Congress voted against military intervention, Hollande said, “France will not act alone.”
However, he said France would “also assume her responsibilities by supporting the opposition in Syria so that there is a response” to the alleged chemical weapons attack.
German President Gauck said he hoped it would be “possible to reach an international agreement on the appropriate response” to the alleged attack in the Damascus suburbs Aug. 21. The United States has said that more than 1,400 people, including many civilians, died from exposure to deadly sarin nerve gas.
“I find it unacceptable that a dictator can act with such impunity and can break such a taboo by using chemical weapons against his own people,” Gauck said.
Hollande said his determination to act was reinforced after reading an interview Assad gave to French newspaper Le Figaro in which he denied that his forces had used chemical weapons and threatened “negative repercussions” against France if it intervened.
“On reading this, I became even more determined,” Hollande said. “Those who had doubts about Bashar al-Assad’s intentions can no longer be in doubt. He speaks of ‘liquidating’ all those who do not agree with him.”
Hollande was referring to Assad’s remark that it was “too late” to negotiate with opposition forces in his country, who he said were “terrorists” who had to be killed.