Monday, February 19, 2018

French President Francois Hollande vows to back united Syrian rebels

PARIS — France will recognize a provisional Syrian government as soon as it has been formed, President Francois Hollande said Monday, urging Syria's fractured political opposition to establish one as soon as possible.

Hollande also said that France, like the United States and Britain, would view any use of chemical weapons by President Bashar Assad of Syria as a legitimate justification for military intervention, even without a U.N. Security Council resolution.

"With our partners we remain very vigilant regarding preventing the use of chemical weapons, which for the international community would be a legitimate reason for direct intervention," Hollande said in an annual foreign policy speech to French ambassadors, his first as president.

The statements by Hollande represented the most forceful attempt by the group of Western nations calling for Assad's ouster to nudge Syria's marginalized and often squabbling opposition groups toward unity.

Despite repeated attempts, those groups, which include many exiled figures, have failed to agree on a common approach to ending Assad's rule, or to gain credibility, especially with Syrians inside the country. As the violence reaches deadlier peaks, attention has shifted to armed rebel groups, which have become the most prominent face of a rebellion that started almost 18 months ago with street protests.

"France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government — inclusive and representative — that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria," Hollande said. "We are including our Arab partners to accelerate this step," he said, adding: "France will recognize the provisional government of Syria once it is formed."

The Obama administration expressed opposition to Hollande pledge, saying it was premature when Assad's opponents are still so fractured.

American officials said the French announcement wasn't coordinated with other nations that have been working on a diplomatic solution to the civil war.

Hollande also said that France continued to press the Security Council for a new, more far-reaching resolution on Syria and criticized Russia and China for using their vetoes to protect Assad. He said that their "attitude is weakening our capacity to ensure the United Nations Charter is respected."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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