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Hollande Doesn't Rule Out Syria Strike

"The military option must remain" despite Syria's agreement to eradicate its chemical weapons, says French President.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/16/2013, 3:43 AM

French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande
Reuters

French President Francois Hollande warned on Sunday that a deal to eradicate Syria's chemical arms was "not an end point" and kept the option of military strikes open, as he maintained pressure on Damascus, reported AFP.

Speaking live on TF1 television, Hollande stressed that the international community must prepare for the possibility of sanctions "in case of non-implementation of the accord" as part of a UN resolution that could be voted on within the next seven days.

He said the deal on Syria announced Saturday was "an important step" but was "not an end point", adding "the military option must remain, otherwise there will be no constraint."

France has been at the forefront of a drive to punish with military strikes the regime of Bashar Al-Assad for a deadly poison gas attack on August 21 it blames on the Syrian government.

But it was not part of three-day negotiations in Geneva between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that resulted in the ambitious deal to eradicate Syria's chemical arms arsenal.

Under the terms of the accord, Damascus has one week to put forward a full list of the chemical weapons it possesses and these must be taken away or destroyed by the end of the first semester of 2014.

The accord temporarily averts the threat of military strikes on Syria that France and the United States had initially touted as a way to punish Assad's regime for the gas attack -- which Damascus has always denied being responsible for.

Hollande said Paris's determination to stick to a firm line had helped deliver the progress achieved in Geneva.

"Pressure exerted by France and the United States was strong enough to convince (Russian President) Vladimir Putin to take an initiative that allowed for an accord," he said, adding, "Good!"

Hollande is due to meet with Kerry and U.S. Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday morning to discuss the plan, as fighting on the ground in Syria continues to rage.

He said the timetable for the Syria accord was "perhaps a little ambitious."

United States President Barack Obama declared in a weekend interview that his country is still prepared to act militarily to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, despite the decision to hold back on striking Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

Kerry hinted at the same thing Sunday, warning Syria that it was not off the hook following the deal to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile.

Speaking almost at the same time as the French president, Syria's information minister Omran Al-Zoubi told British television that Damascus would commit to the plan to eradicate its chemical weapons once it has United Nations approval.