Sep 5, 2013

Britain said it has fresh evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Damascus even as China joined Russia in opposing military strikes on Syria, saying it would push up oil prices and create an economic downturn. In a related development, Pope Francis urged the Group of 20 leaders on Thursday to abandon the "futile pursuit" of a military solution in Syria and laid out its case for a negotiated settlement that guarantees rights for all minorities, including Christians. British Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC as he arrived in Russia for the G20 summit that scientists at the Porton Down laboratories have been "examining samples" from Syria's capital and concluded they had tested positive for the sarin nerve agent, he said. Meanwhile, on the eve of the G20 summit, the leaders of the two opposing camps - the US and Russian presidents - set out their positions. US President Barack Obama said he was convinced that the chemical attack in Damascus last month was the work of the Syrian government and the world was obliged to react - with or without UN backing both to prevent further attacks and also to prevent the entire system of "international norms" and rules from being further flouted. Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed as "absolutely absurd" the idea that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would risk retaliation by using chemical weapons. Putin added that unless convincing evidence, gathered independently and endorsed by the UN, was forthcoming, any claims against the Assad regime made by the US remained groundless. The Russian foreign ministry warned that any US military retaliation without UN approval would be a "gross violation" of them and "have all the attributes of aggression". The Chinese deputy finance minister, Zhu Guangyao, told a pre-G20 briefing: "Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on oil prices it will cause a hike in the oil price." The UN special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is rushing to the summit to update G20 leaders on the state of stalled peace talks. In a sign of tensions before the summit, Putin called the US secretary of state a liar for claiming al-Qaida did not have a significant presence in Syria. He said US bombing of Syria could lead to highly dangerous attacks on Syrian nuclear reactors. EU leaders have expressed concern at the pace of the drive to war. The president of the European commission, Jos Manuel Barroso, said consensus in the international community was needed on Syria and argued that efforts should be focused on a political solution. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power lashed at Russia at the United Nations, accusing Moscow of holding the Security Council "hostage" by blocking against Syria. Power blamed the structure of the Security Council, which lets five major nations hold veto power Russia, the United States, China, France and Britain. Russia has consistently used its veto power to block action against President Bashar Assad's regime. Power said Russia "Russia continues to hold the Council hostage and shirks its international responsibilities." British Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated Britain's support for Syrian rebel groups as fresh doubts emerged about whether it was possible to identify a moderate rebel grouping in the event of the fall of Bashar al-Assad. "The people of Syria should be in no doubt that the UK stands fully behind the Syrian National opposition the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people," Hague said following a meeting with Ahmad Al-Jarba, the president of the Syrian National Coalition. In a letter on Thursday to the G20 host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis lamented that "one-sided interests" had prevailed in Syria, preventing a diplomatic end to the conflict and allowing the continued "senseless massacre" of innocents. "To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution," Francis wrote as the G20 meeting got underway in St Petersburg.
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