Political solution in Syria more difficult in 'dangerous new phase', says Baird

TORONTO – The crisis in Syria has entered a “dangerous new phase,” and while Canada supports a political solution, that’s becoming more difficult, the foreign affairs minister said Monday.

John Baird condemned “in the strongest terms” a sniper attack on a United Nations convoy carrying a team investigating an alleged attack with chemical weapons, which Syrian activists claim killed hundreds of civilians.

The Syrian government accused rebel forces of firing at the UN team, while the opposition said a pro-government militia was responsible.

“The attacks on the United Nations convoy in Damascus are absolutely abhorrent,” Baird said.

“The Syrian regime has the fundamental duty to protect these individuals, these representatives of the United Nations and the international community.”

Baird declined to call for military intervention in Syria as Western support mounted for an international military response if it is confirmed that President Bashar Assad’s troops used chemical weapons.

“I think first we’re going to work to get the facts with the UN team on the ground,” Baird said.

“We have been in close contact, both the prime minister and I, with three of our main allies in this regard. We’ll work with them and when we have additional things to report we will do so.”

France, Britain, Israel and some U.S. congressmen have said a military response against the Syrian regime should be an option. Russia, however, has said that Western nations calling for military action have no proof the Syrian government was behind any chemical attacks.

Baird said Canada will continue working with its international partners to “review a full range of options.”

“Canada believes the only way to halt the bloodshed in Syria is through a political solution,” he said. “However, we understand that this solution is becoming more and more difficult as the crisis enters a very dangerous new phase.”

He called on Russia to end its “complete obfuscation” and become part of the solution.

The UN inspectors are attempting to examine the site of the Aug. 21 attack in the capital’s suburbs.

Delay tactics used by the Assad regime in giving UN inspectors access has likely already impaired the UN team’s ability to assign responsibility, Baird said. Still, he called on Syrian authorities to allow the team unfettered access.

Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair said he supports first working through international law, and taking it one step at a time, but didn’t rule out future military intervention.