France would join a campaign for war against its former colony Syria if endorsed by the United Nations, French presidential candidate Francois Hollande said on Friday, who leads his rival President Nicolas Sarkozy in current polls.
“If done within a UN framework, we would participate in such an intervention,” Hollande, the Socialist Party’s candidate, told Europe 1 radio when asked about possible UN military action in Syria.
Western and Arab powers meeting in Paris on Thursday said that they would seek tougher international action if Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime flouted a shaky UN peace plan.
They said a UN observer mission in Syria would be dramatically reinforced and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the UN Security Council to authorize tough new measures against Assad.
She also raised the prospect that Turkey could react to “outrageous” Syrian shelling on its border by invoking a clause in the NATO alliance treaty that would require members to decide if their security is threatened.
Hollande is tipped in opinion polls to win France’s two-round April 22-May 6 presidential election.
Oil-rich Gulf Arab monarchies have so far been the only states in the anti-Assad camp to call for the militarization of the Syrian revolution, while Western powers, including Sarkozy’s France have poured cold water on the suggestion and balked at foreign intervention.
Hollande’s support for military action represents a u-turn in France’s current policy to the crisis, which has opted for sanctions and non-lethal means to pressure Assad.
It is also uncertain whether Hollande would pursue that pledge if elected, or if the Socialist candidate is simply playing the hardline card to draw votes in the upcoming presidential elections.
Russia: ceasefire holding
While Western powers talked down the ceasefire in Syria, Russia sounded cautious optimism on Friday, saying it was generally holding despite some violations and should be seen as an achievement that was saving the country from a broader civil war.
“Despite the existing violations and provocations, the ceasefire is holding overall. This is a great achievement whose loss could lead to a dangerous retreat to a new wave of violence,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia’s comments came one day after Clinton called on the UN Security Council to brand Syrian Assad a threat to peace.
The Russian foreign ministry said Syria was currently facing a choice of either “moving toward a peaceful national dialogue or retreating to civil war.”
“And every participant of the domestic conflict must make their choice,” Russia said in comments directed at both Assad and the armed opposition.
The foreign ministry added that it also intended to soon host members of the Gulf-funded Syrian National Council (SNC) opposition group in hopes of establishing dialogue in the 13-month conflict.
Russia this week hosted one domestic opposition group whose members are not a part of the SNC and now intends to host other groups in the coming days in a bid to show its constructive approach.
Moscow has been more critical of Assad in recent weeks, but it is also accusing foreign powers – chiefly Gulf Arab states – of openly backing the armed opposition while doing little to support talks.
The foreign ministry said it was “satisfied” by Syria’s decision Thursday to sign a deal on a protocol for observers monitoring the ceasefire under a six-point plan agreed with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
But it added that what mattered most was the question of how “constructive the Syrian government and opposition groups are toward implementing Annan’s plan.”
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the country was willing to contribute members to a United Nations observer team in Syria.
Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin made the comment at a daily news briefing in Beijing.
A handful of UN observers are already in Syria monitoring a week-old truce that has failed to stop bloodshed.
China, along with Russia, has been particularly active diplomatically in preventing the West and its Gulf Arab allies from exploiting the Syrian crisis to further their interests.