France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, has warned that his country could strike unilaterally if more poison gas is used in the Syrian conflict.
“If chemical weapons are used on the ground and we know how to find out their provenance, France will launch strikes to destroy the chemical weapons stocks,” he told European newspapers this week.
Macron came to power last month by defeating the Russia-friendly Marine Le Pen in the presidential election. He won a parliamentary majority this month.
France ruled Syria as a League of Nations mandate before the Second World War and has been involved in its civil war almost from the start, supplying weapons, communications equipment and medical supplies to rebels since 2012.
It has also carried out airstrikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria after it claimed responsibility for the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.
But France has stopped short of attacking the regime of Bashar Assad. When his forces were accused of gassing civilians in a suburb of Damascus in 2013, France called for a Western military intervention but was overruled by the United States.
Macron criticized the former American president, Barack Obama, for not enforcing his “red line” at the time, arguing this emboldened Russia’s Vladimir Putin in “other theaters” (meaning Ukraine).
An American attack was forestalled at the last minute when Assad offered to surrender his chemical arsenal. Much of it was destroyed, but the regime likely kept some gasses.
Putin has for years shielded Assad from international condemnation in the United Nations Security Council.
Assad must no longer go
In a more compromising gesture, Macron told reporters France would no longer condition support for a peace settlement on Assad’s ouster — “because no one has introduced me to his legitimate successor.”
The priority, he said, should be defeating terrorists, preferably with Russia’s support.
Russia has justified its role in Syria by claiming it is fighting terrorists alongside Assad, but it only recently started bombing the Islamic State. Most of its combat operations have been against less fanatical opponents of the Assad regime.