French PM: not acting in Syria would send wrong message to Iran

September 4, 2013
France's Prime Minister Ayrault delivers his speech during a parliamentary debate on Syria at the National Assembly in Paris
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France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault delivers his speech during a parliamentary debate on Syria at the National Assembly in Paris, September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - A lack of international action to the chemical attack in Syria would risk sending Iran the wrong message over its nuclear program, France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned on Wednesday.

Defending France's call for military action against Bashar al-Assad, Ayrault told French parliament any response should be "strong, quick and targeting specific objectives", but ruled out any French troops being sent on the ground.

"To not act would be to put in danger peace and security in the entire region. What credibility would our international commitments against non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons stand for?" Ayrault said.

"What message would this send to other regimes, and I am thinking like you of Iran and North Korea? The message would be clear: You can continue," said Ayrault, who received a brief standing ovation from government-aligned deputies.

Iran rejects Western accusations it is seeking to build the atomic bomb, while North Korea has made clear that it sees having a nuclear deterrent as its right.

After British Prime Minister David Cameron failed last week to win parliamentary backing for military strikes, France is the only major military power lining up behind U.S. President Barack Obama, who is seeking Congress backing for acting.

Under the French constitution, President Francois Hollande does not need approval for action, although he is increasingly coming under pressure from opposition lawmakers to hold one.

"Not reacting would allow Bashar al-Assad to continue with his atrocities, encourage the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and leave Syria and the region to fall into chaos."

"Our message is clear: the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. We want to punish that and show Assad that he has no other solution but to negotiate."

Christian Jacob, parliamentary leader of the opposition UMP party, said France could not act without a U.N. mandate and highlighted the risk of France finding itself diplomatically isolated as he pressed demands for a French parliament vote.

"Where are our allies? Where is the U.N. Security Council resolution," he said. "There are a number of troubling similarities with Iraq. Nothing justifies such a radical change in our military and political diplomacy."

(Reporting By John Irish; editing by Mark John)