France pledged Friday to join U.S. military action against Syria should President Obama give the attack order to punish the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Secretary of State John Kerry quickly hailed the pledge from “our oldest ally,” a reference to French support of the American Revolution. The commitment from France came as support for the U.S. was wavering after the stunning vote by the British Parliament Thursday against the use of force in Syria. “We are not alone,” Kerry said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said just before the British vote that “it is the goal of President Obama and our government, whatever decision is taken, that it be an international collaboration and effort.”
Hagel was returning from meetings with Asian defense ministers in Brunei and was expected to be in Washington late Friday for final planning on what appeared to be an imminent attack.
At a State Department briefing, Kerry also referenced support from the Arab League, Turkey and other allies, but that support has only come in the form of backing for the U.S. charges that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons.
Turkey and Jordan, both close U.S. allies, have ruled out the use of force and also have said that their territory would not serve as “launching pads” for attacks on Syria. U.S. efforts to gain international backing for action at the United Nations have been blocked by Russia and China.
In Denmark on Friday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance had no plans to intervene in Syria, which would require the approval of all 28 of its members.
Earlier this week, French President Francois Hollande said that “France is ready to punish those who took the vile decision to gas innocent people.”
Hollande went further in remarks Friday to the French daily Le Monde, stating that “France wants action that is in proportion and firm against the Damascus regime. There are few countries that have the capacity to inflict a sanction by the appropriate means. France is one of them. We are ready.”
Hollande appeared to be referring to the SCALP cruise missiles in the inventory of the French Air Force. The SCALP missiles, launched from French Rafale or Mirage 2000 attack aircraft as standoff weapons, were used in the allied attacks on Libya in 2011.
In the case of Syria, the SCALP cruise missiles could be used in concert with hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles aboard five U.S. destroyers now patrolling in the eastern Mediterranean.
The SCALPs have a range of about 630 miles and carry a 650-pound conventional warhead. Testing on a version of the SCALP for the French navy began last month.
Moscow’s Interfax news agency said Thursday that Russia was sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean but Russian officials stressed that the ships were not meant to counter the U.S. naval buildup.
The Russian ships, a missile cruiser and an anti-submarine ship, were expected to arrive in the eastern Mediterranean in “the coming days,” Interfax said.
Russia, Syria’s main international ally and financial backer, has charged that the chemical attacks blamed on Assad’s forces were more likely the result of attacks by rebel forces.
The divide between the U.S. and Russia on Syria will be on display next week when President Obama arrives Tuesday in St. Petersburg for an economic summit that will also be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.