MOSCOW, September 7 (RIA Novosti) – EU foreign ministers have called for a “clear and firm” response to those guilty of using chemical weapons in the conflict in Syria, the EU’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton said Saturday at a security policy meeting in Vilnius attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
"It seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks as it is the only one that possesses chemical weapons agents and means of their delivery in a sufficient quantity," Ashton said in a statement on the EU website.
But that call came with an appeal from the EU to the United States not to commence military operations against the Syrian regime until the publication of a UN report into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the conflict, The Associated Press reported.
"We note the on-going UN investigation on the August 21 attack and further investigations on other chemical weapons attacks carried out in this conflict. It hopes a preliminary report of this first investigation can be released as soon as possible and welcomes [French] President Hollande‘s statement to wait for this report before any further action," Ashton said.
The UN weapons inspectors' report on chemical arms use in Syria is likely to be handed in at the end of next week, President Hollande said Saturday, Reuters reported.
"When the (US) Congress will have voted on Thursday or Friday and when we will have the inspectors' report, likely at the end of the week, a decision will have to be made," Hollande said.
The United States is keeping its options open on whether to carry out a strike against Syria before UN experts present their report into the recent alleged chemical weapons attacks there, Kerry said in Paris later in the day after talks with the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
President Obama has not yet made a decision and is “keeping all options open,” Kerry said.
Kerry expressed his gratitude to the EU ministers for their “strong position” on Syria, Reuters reported.
Kerry attended the Vilnius meeting in a bid to drum up support for US military action, AFP reported. Four EU states - Britain, France, Italy and Spain - had previously signed up Friday to a declaration of support for "strong measures" to be taken by the international community against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons. Germany said Saturday it had also signed up to the declaration.
President Obama is seeking approval from Congress next week for a military operation against the Syrian government for allegedly using chemical weapons near the capital Damascus last month. US intelligence sources claim those attacks killed almost 1,400 people.
Updated with quotes from Catherine Ashton, President Hollande and Secretary Kerry