Baird says 'political solution' best hope for ending violence in Syria
Published Friday, August 23, 2013 2:02PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 23, 2013 7:01PM EDT
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says that although the evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria is mounting, “a political solution” remains the best way to end the ongoing violence in that country.
Baird told a news conference Friday following meetings with his Indonesian counterpart that Canada is “deeply concerned” about reports that the Bashar Assad regime targeted civilians with chemical weapons in an attack that began Wednesday and continued Friday. The death toll has been estimated to be between 136 and 1,300 people.
While he noted that United Nations inspectors must still validate the reports,Baird said “the evidence is becoming increasingly clear.”
He said he spoke earlier Friday with his British counterpart William Hague about next steps, and plans similar conversations with other allies in the near future.
However, he said, “The only end to the suffering of the Syrian people will be a political solution.”
Baird did not answer yes or no when asked if Canada would join a military intervention by its allies, something that both Britain and France have hinted at. But he did call the ongoing violence in Syria “the biggest humanitarian crisis of this century,” and said the longer it goes on, “Canada will have to step up to the plate and assume our responsibilities.”
Baird is set to meet next week with George Sabra, president of the Syrian National Council, a Western-backed opposition group. Sabra will travel to Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.
He believes Assad has targeted civilians with nerve gas and, because of that, is against any political solution to end the violence in Syria.
Baird said he hopes Russia, Syria’s main ally, can negotiate with Assad to allow UN inspectors into the site of the latest reported attack. On Friday, Russia called on Syria to let UN experts do their jobs, but little came of that appeal.
"If our colleague (Russian foreign affairs minister) Sergey Lavrov believes that the opposition used chemical weapons against their own people, he should be most enthusiastic to use his influence with President Assad to let those UN investigators in," said Baird.
Baird said the fact that UN inspectors have not been allowed to enter the area “is quite telling.”
UN inspectors were allowed into the country earlier this week, and are staying in a suburban Damascus hotel not far from the site of the latest attack. However, they have not been allowed to move about freely.
Despite horrifying images coming out of Syria showing men, women and children gasping for air, foaming at the mouth or trembling -- evidence, experts say, of a chemical attack -- the international community has so far failed to agree on a strategy to respond.
Baird said Canada is “troubled” that the UN Security Council has yet to take concrete action, “in terms of even putting out a strong statement.”
But he said he will continue to support upcoming talks, a sentiment echoed by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who joined Baird for the press conference following their meeting in Chelsea, Que.
“What we have been seeing in Syria is a continuous worsening of the situation and the latest episode is a new low and the conflict has now degenerated,” Natalegawa told reporters, adding that “too much human suffering has taken place.”
“We must set aside whatever differences that countries may have to really create conditions conducive to encourage and even cajole all parties back to where they should be, to have dialogue and negotiations,” he added.