PARIS The United States left the door open on Sunday to seeking a United Nations Security Council resolution that could endorse punishing Syria for a chemical weapons attack last month and indicated Arab countries were seeking a tough response.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Arab foreign ministers, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said many were leaning toward supporting a G20 statement - already signed by 12 nations, including Saudi Arabia - that called for a strong international response following an August 21 chemical attack in Syria.
Washington and Paris say forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were behind the attack in which more than 1,400 are estimated to have been killed, and they are considering air strikes to try to deter him from using such weapons again.
Kerry told a news conference that Saudi Arabia, which has been one of Assad's most vocal opponents and diplomats say is one of the main suppliers of arms to the the Syrian rebels, "supported the strike and they support taking action."
French President Francois Hollande, increasingly under pressure at home and among European partners to seek a U.N. mandate before any military intervention in Syria, suggested on Saturday he could seek a resolution at the Security Council despite previous Russian and Chinese vetoes.
French officials say a draft resolution presented jointly by Britain and France at the end of August was not even read by Russia and China, let alone discussed.
U.N. inspectors are likely to hand in their report later this week as the U.S. Congress debates whether to allow limited strikes on Syria.
NO DECISION BY OBAMA
"On President Hollande's comments with respect to the U.N., the president (Obama), and all of us, are listening carefully to all of our friends," Kerry said. "No decision has been made by the president."
After the news conference, a U.S. official said Washington was not seeking a Security Council vote at the moment.
"We have always supported working through the U.N. but have been clear there is not a path forward there and we are not currently considering proposing another vote," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kerry's meeting with Arab ministers, including from Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, followed talks in Lithuania with European foreign ministers, who blamed the attack in Syria on Assad but urged waiting for the U.N. inspectors to report before any action.
"All of us agreed - not one dissenter - that Assad's deplorable use of chemical weapons ... crosses an international, global red line," Kerry said alongside his Qatari counterpart Khaled al-Attiya.
"A number of countries immediately signed on to the G20 agreement that was reached by now 12 countries on the side of the G20 meeting and they will make their own announcements in the next 24 hours about that."
Qatar has strongly backed the Syrian opposition.
"As for Syria and what Qatar is willing to provide, Qatar is currently studying with its friends and the United Nations what it could provide in order to protect the Syrian people," Attiya said without elaborating.
(Additional reporting by Natalie Huet; Writing by John Irish; editing by Andrew Roche and Christopher Wilson)