Western allies seek Indonesia support in Syria

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Three Western countries have called on Indonesia to support efforts to pressure the Syrian regime under Bashar al-Assad over its continued use of chemical weapons, barely a week after they fired missiles into Syria in what they claimed to be a justified strike.

In a rare joint announcement in Jakarta, envoys from the United States, France and the United Kingdom urged the Indonesian government to "go further" in demanding responsibility from Assad for the suspected use of chemical weapons against his own people.

The trio made overtures after the first coordinated Western action against Assad following a closed-door meeting with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Thursday (April 19), which they requested, after Jakarta sought clarity over the missile strike over the weekend.

Washington, in collaboration with London and Paris, fired over 100 missiles at three Syrian targets on Saturday to punish the Syrian president for an alleged poison gas attack in the town of Douma on April 7.

"We would like (Indonesia) to join us in holding the Assad regime accountable for the misuse and the abuse of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the use of chemical weapons against Syrian nationals," said UK's Ambassador to Indonesia Moazzam Malik after the meeting.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is a 1993 arms treaty that requires all signatory states to give up all their chemical weapon stocks. Syria joined the convention in 2013, with close ally Russia vouching for the former's removal of all its chemical weapons.

As a member of The Hague-based Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Indonesia played an important role in the enforcement of the convention, Malik said.

"We would further like to invite Indonesia to work with us in all international fora to urge all member states, including Syria and Russia, to uphold the convention because this unravels a very, very dangerous future for all of us in the world," he told reporters.

Neither Retno nor her senior staffers issued a statement about Thursday's meeting, but the government had made its stance known right after the coordinated stirike.

"Indonesia underlines the need for all parties to respect international laws, and norms, in particular the (United Nations) charter on international peace and security," the minister said in an official press statement over the weekend, continuing a line of persistent objections over the unauthorised use of force.

She also strongly condemned "the use of chemical weapons by any party in Syria".

Indonesia also aired its concerns for the safety of civilians and called for a comprehensive resolution to the conflict in Syria through negotiation and peaceful means.

"Indonesia also calls on all parties to ensure the security and safety of civilians, in particular women and children, which must always be a priority," Retno said in the statement.

In line with many other countries like Germany, Canada and Turkey, Indonesia's message echoed the UN in that it called on nations to "show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people".

Meanwhile, countries including Iran, Iraq and China have condemned the strike, calling it a military crime.

Criticism of the Western missile strike not only came from the international community, but also from within the Western allies' ranks, including members of the UK parliament who roasted British Prime Minister Theresa May for not calling for a vote in accordance with required national procedures and accusing her of blindly following US President Donald Trump's orders.

During Thursday's doorstep interview, US Ambassador Joseph R. Donovan said the allies had used up all the diplomatic and economic tools "to avoid the situation that we are in today".

"It is very important to remember that Syria signed the chemical weapons convention...and promised to give up all its chemical weapons and Russia was a guarantor of that framework," he said.

"We called on Russia to fulfill its international commitments and ensure that all chemical weapons are removed from Syria."

French Ambassador to Indonesia Jean-Charles Berthonnet added that the countries had to target Assad's regime as it had crossed a red line with the latest alleged chemical strike.

France, the US and the UK have accused Russia of blocking OPCW inspectors from reaching Douma, saying that Russia and Syria might have tampered with the evidence.