France says military option in Syria still valid

Reuters
French Foreign Affairs Minister Fabius greets US Secretary of State Kerry at the ministry in Paris
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French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius (R) greets U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Foreign …

PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Wednesday it remained determined to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over what it calls his use of chemical weapons if diplomacy fails, and a military strike was still possible.

Paris put forward a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Tuesday setting out the terms for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons and warning of "serious consequences" if it resisted, something that Russia has indicated it would not support.

"France remains determined to punish the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad," government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told RFI radio. "The military option is indeed under consideration if the current diplomatic procedures fail. It is not a hypothetical threat."

France, one of Assad's fiercest critics, proposed its resolution a day after a surprise proposal by Russia that its Syrian ally hand over its chemical weapons stocks, a move that could avert possible U.S.-led military strikes.

It has declared itself ready to help in such strikes but has been left in limbo since the United States decided to seek Congress approval before responding to an August 21 chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus which it says came from Syrian government troops.

Paris fears Moscow's move could be a ruse, prompting it to put forward its resolution quickly to set tough terms with consequences if Damascus failed to abide by them.

Speaking on France Inter radio, Russia's ambassador to France called the resolution a "trap" aimed at opening the door to a military intervention.

"We think this project was put forward in haste," Alexandre Orlov told France Inter radio. "We believe that the draft resolution should foresee a control mechanism and give instructions to the United Nations Secretary general and the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons."

He added that Moscow was sure the Syrian government was sincere in accepting the Russian proposal, but would be ready to consider stronger action, including sanctions, if Damascus did not keep its end of the bargain.

"For us Assad remains the leader of a sovereign state elected by his people. He has never been protected by Russia and we have no particular friendship with him," Orlov said.

(Reporting By John Irish and Patrick Vignal; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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