MANILA – The United States is still seeking an “international coalition” in response to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, despite a vote against military action by British MPs, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
“Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together,” Hagel told a news conference.
But he did not say which countries might be part of an international coalition, and his comments appeared to strike a different tone from earlier statements by White House officials suggesting the US is prepared to act alone.
Hagel said Washington respected the British parliament’s stance rejecting participation in any punitive strikes against Syria’s regime.
“Every nation has a responsibility to make its own decisions,” Hagel said during a visit to the Philippines.
“We are continuing to consult with the British as with all of our allies. That consultation includes ways forward together on a response to this chemical weapons attack in Syria.”
He added: “I don’t know of many responsible governments around the world, if any, who have not spoken out in violent opposition to the use of chemical weapons on innocent people.”
US plans to build an international coalition for a military strike on Syria suffered a blow when the House of Commons in London voted Thursday against the use of force to punish a chemical weapons attack last week outside Damascus.
Asked if there was anything Syria could do to prevent possible US military action, Hagel said he could not speculate.
“I have not been informed of any change in the Assad’s regime’s position on any issue. I deal with the reality with what we have. I don’t speculate on hypothetical situations,” he said at a joint news conference with his Philippine counterpart.
Hagel went ahead with his visit to Manila despite the tense showdown over Syria, with US forces prepared to launch punitive strikes against the Damascus regime if ordered by US President Barack Obama.
The US leader has said the alleged large-scale use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s regime is a threat to US security as well as a crime against the Syrian people.
US warships armed with scores of cruise missiles are converging on the eastern Mediterranean, and US military officials have said they are ready to launch a powerful barrage against regime targets in Syria.
Syria is in the 29th month of a vicious civil war in which more than 100,000 people are credibly reported to have died.
The Assad regime has denied using chemical weapons and blamed “terrorist” rebels.
Assad’s ally Russia has blocked all attempts to toughen international sanctions against Damascus or authorise outside force to punish or unseat the regime.
As the British vote took place, Hagel and other senior US officials briefed top US lawmakers on possible responses to the alleged chemical weapons attack.
Recounting the conference call, Hagel said Friday the Obama administration is not lobbying lawmakers to back military strikes but rather asking for their advice on the crisis.
The administration was “not trying to convince anyone of anything,” Hagel said.
“The objective (of the phone call) was to give an update on our thinking on where we are on this issue and just as importantly seek their advice, their opinions on a way forward,” he said.