Arab leaders on Tuesday blamed the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people last week, but declined to back a retaliatory military strike, leaving President Barack Obama without the broad regional support he had for his military intervention in Libya two years ago.
Administration officials said the United States did not seek an endorsement of military action from the Arab League, the New York Times reported
Instead, Washington sought condemnation of the use of chemical weapons and a clear assignment of responsibility for the attack to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. U.S. officials said they were satisfied with the outcome on both points.
Leaders of the Arab world are deeply divided over a potential Western airstrike against Syria in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons.
“The vast majority of Arabs are emotionally opposed to any Western military action in the region no matter how humanitarian the cause, and no Arab nation or leader has publicly endorsed such a step, even in countries like the Persian Gulf monarchies whose diplomats for months have privately urged the West to step in,” the Times reported. “In the region, only Turkey has pledged to support intervention.”
Behind the scenes at least two closely allied Arab heavyweights, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, may be split over which enemy poses the greater immediate threat to their regional interests: the Sunni Islamists who dominate the Syrian rebels, or the Shiite Iranian backers of Assad.
The Arab League, which has already expelled Assad’s government, said in its statement that it holds “the Syrian regime responsible for this heinous crime.” But the statement also appeared to suggest that the specific “perpetrators” were not yet known and should be brought to international justice.
Obama administration officials said they were satisfied with the Arab League statement.
“This was a big diplomatic step forward in laying the groundwork for actions the president might choose, and required days of aggressive diplomacy to avoid delay,” a senior administration official said Tuesday night.
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