Syria crisis: European foreign ministers to urge John Kerry to delay US military action until UN weapons inspectors report back

 

European foreign ministers meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to urge the United States to hold off any military action in Syria until UN inspectors report on the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Syria was a key topic of Kerry's discussions on Saturday with fellow diplomats attending an informal meeting of the European Union in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. He also was to update them on ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

European officials have been sceptical about whether any military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime can be effective.

Britain's Parliament has already voted against military action. And French President Francois Hollande displayed sudden caution on Friday, saying he would wait for a UN report before deciding whether to intervene militarily. It was the first time Hollande said he would wait for the UN report.

The UN inspectors' report is expected later this month, although some European officials are asking the UN to speed up the probe or issue an interim report.

France, which firmly backs the Syrian rebels and has strategic and historic interest in the region, had been ready to act last week but held off when President Barack Obama declared last weekend that he would seek the backing of Congress first.

Hollande's announcement appeared to catch French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius off guard. Earlier on Friday, he told EU foreign ministers meeting in Vilnius that there was no need to wait for the UN report because it would simply confirm what was already known — that the chemical weapons attack had occurred — but would not say who was responsible.

On Middle East peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Kerry is expected to ask the EU to reconsider a funding ban on Israeli institutions operating in occupied territories. The EU decision, announced in July, marked a new international show of displeasure with Israeli settlements built on lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

The Palestinians claim some of those territories — the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — for their hoped-for state. The EU ban applies to grants, prizes and financial instruments and that the new funding guidelines go into effect in 2014. The EU issues dozens of grants, totaling millions of euros, to Israeli universities, companies and researchers every year.

In Vilnius, Kerry also is meeting with top Lithuanian officials and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton before departing for Paris.

On Sunday, he is to meet in France with representatives of Arab nations and travel to London where he will hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He meets with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday in London before returning to Washington.

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