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British Parliament Closes Door On Syria Intervention

The Houses of Parliament are silhouetted against a setting sun as lawmakers debate possible British military action in Syria.
Andrew Cowie
AFP/Getty Images
The Houses of Parliament are silhouetted against a setting sun as lawmakers debate possible British military action in Syria.

After debating deep into the night, the British House of Commons refused a precursory resolution on military strikes in Syria. The resolution, which failed 272-285, called for a second vote to authorize military action once the U.N. inspectors have issued their findings on whether the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against its own people.

"It is clear to me the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action," Prime Minister David Cameron said. "I get that and the government will act accordingly."

The motion came after Cameron made his case in favor of strikes and many in Parliament cast doubt on his assertions.

Reporting from London, NPR's Philip Reeves reports that this came as a "surprise" and represents a big blow to Cameron and his authority.

"It's a measure of the level of opposition to the possibility of being drawn into a war without knowing the consequences in the Middle East and a reflection of the legacy of Iraq," Philip told our Newscast unit.

Also, what happens across the pond is consequential for the United States because Britain is a key piece of the international coalition President Obama was counting on if he chose to launch a strike.

CNN has highlights of the British debate:

Even before this vote, analysts said requiring a second vote in the British Parliament may have affected any American plans. The New York Times, however, is reporting that "senior administration officials" told them President Obama "is willing to move ahead with a limited military strike on Syria" even without the support of key allies.

The paper reports:

"Although the officials cautioned that Mr. Obama had not made a final decision, all indications suggest that the strike could occur as soon as United Nations inspectors, who are investigating the Aug. 21 attack that killed hundreds of Syrians, leave the country. They are scheduled to depart Damascus, the capital, on Saturday.

"The White House is to present its case for military action against Syria to Congressional leaders on Thursday night. Administration officials assert that the intelligence will show that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad carried out the chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus."

Update at 7:15 p.m. ET. U.S. Will Do What's Right For The Country:

National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the U.S. will continue to consult with the U.K. government.

"As we've said, President Obama's decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States," Hayden said. "He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable."

Update at 6:29 p.m. ET. A Blow For A 'Special Relationship?':

BBC Correspondent Dominic Casciani has this to say about what this means diplomatically between the U.S. and the U.K.:

"US-UK special relationship based on sharing intelligence, unity on security and mutual strategic priorities. Now UK has broken step."

This is how the major papers in Britain are playing the news:

-- The Times of London: "Cameron humiliated in Syria strike vote"

-- The Guardian: "PM says he 'gets' that UK does not want military action as MPs reject Syria motion"

-- The Telegraph: "Syria crisis: Cameron rules out military action after Commons defeat"

-- The Daily Mail: "The humbling of David Cameron: On a momentous night, Tory rebellion forces Prime Minister to rule out military strike against Syria... and plunges him into a deep political crisis"

Update at 6 p.m. ET. A Second Motion Falls:

The BBC reports that a second motion also failed in the House of Commons.

"MPs also rejected the government's motion in support of military action in Syria if it was supported by evidence from United Nations weapons inspectors, who are investigating claims President Bashar al-Assad's regime had used chemical weapons against civilians," the BBC reports.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.