European Union urges US to await UN report on Syria

EU foreign ministers say there should be no action before the UN reports back on chemical weapons attacks in Syria. AFP
European foreign ministers on Saturday endorsed a "clear and strong response" to a chemical weapons attack that strongly points to the Syrian government, but they urged the U.S. to delay possible military action until U.N. inspectors report their findings. 
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton read a statement for the group that called for a "clear and strong response" to the attack in Syria but stopped short of specifying military action. 
Ashton also said the EU wants Syria\’s crisis to be addressed by the United Nations. She said any further action against Damascus should be delayed until a U.N. chemical weapons team presents its findings. 
Speaking in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on Saturday, Ashton said that the EU\’s 28 governments agreed that available information showed strong evidence that the Syrian government was responsible for an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians on August 21 that killed hundreds.
Ashton said the August 21 attack was a "blatant violation of international law, a war crime and a crime against humanity" and that the ministers "were unanimous in condemning in the strongest terms this horrific attack".
The ministers agreed, she said, that the world "cannot remain idle" and said a clear and strong response was needed to prevent any future use of chemical weapons in Syria.
The ministers stopped short, however, of explicitly supporting military action against Syria, as proposed by the United States, France and others.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, in Vilnius trying to make the US administration\’s case for a strike, thanked the EU for a "strong statement about the need for accountability".
Kerry said he would share his counterparts\’ concern with US officials.
President Barack Obama has asked the US Congress to approve the use of force. A final vote in the US Senate is expected at the end of the coming week. A US House of Representatives vote is likely the week of September 16.
Ashton said EU ministers welcomed French President Francois Hollande\’s commitment to wait for a report by United Nations inspectors on the August 21 attack before taking any action.
"The EU underscores […] the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process," she said.
The US says that 1,429 people were killed in the August 21 attack, while aid agencies have confirmed at least 355 deaths, with thousands more wounded.
U.S. President Barack Obama\’s administration has stepped up efforts to muster domestic support for military action against Syria.
Obama, in his weekly radio address, said failing to respond to what he called Syria\’s "outrageous attack" would increase a risk of further chemical weapons attacks. 
In the address, which was broadcast on Saturday, he also said the Syrian government\’s alleged use of chemical weapons was a "direct attack on human dignity" and a threat to national security.
Also, Germany said it would sign a G20 statement calling for a "strong response" to the attack. The U.S. and 10 other countries signed the statement Friday, during a G20 meeting in Russia.
At the G20 summit, Obama held bilateral meetings on Syria with leaders of the world\’s major economies. He received support from the leaders of France, Turkey and other nations, but Russian President Vladimir Putin remained adamantly opposed to any attack on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Obama takes his case for targeted military strikes on Damascus directly to the American people in a televised speech Tuesday. 
The U.S. Congress is expected to vote on possible U.S. action against Syria in coming weeks. A key Senate panel voted on Wednesday in favor of action.
In Syria Saturday, opposition activists say at least 16 people were killed in heavy shelling near Damascus.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and the UN refugee agency says about one third of Syria\’s pre-war population of 20.8 million have fled their homes, either to other countries or safer areas within Syria.
Source: Agencies
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