David Cameron reveals Barack Obama’s reluctant response to Syrian chemical attacks

Former UK prime minister claimed the US president took four days to return his call

The British prime minister David Cameron and US president Barack Obama watch a NATO flypast in 2014. EPA
The British prime minister David Cameron and US president Barack Obama watch a NATO flypast in 2014. EPA

Barack Obama took four days to respond to David Cameron’s request for a co-ordinated plan after a 2013 chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime on residential areas near Damascus.

The former UK prime minister said the US president took “far too long” to return his calls and that a “more automatic response would have been better".

Mr Cameron, who is promoting his new book after three years out of the limelight, said he and Mr Obama had agreed that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad would be a “red line”.

The option of a military response to the attacks on Ghouta, which possibly killed more than 1,000 people, was put to the British Parliament by Mr Cameron but rejected by MPs.

Mr Obama’s Secretary of State at the time, John Kerry, has since blamed the UK government for derailing a response by calling a Parliamentary vote.

“A more automatic response would have been better," Mr Cameron told ITV. "We then agreed a plan.”

He said he was spurred to act after seeing images of dead children, which reminded him of his son Ivan who passed away at the age of six in 2009.

“I watched it on the television and the sight of the children laid out in rows, it made me think of Ivan and everything that had happened to me," Mr Cameron said.

"And I thought it was just so appalling. I felt we’ve got to act.

“President Obama and I had discussed the red line, I think at the G8 in Northern Ireland and so I immediately thought: 'well we must get together and act'.”

But Mr Cameron said he overestimated how supportive Parliament would be after calling the vote for military action.

He said he thought MPs would share his “abhorrence” at what had happened.

“I lost that vote, the first time a prime minister had lost a vote in the House of Commons on a major issue of foreign policy," Mr Cameron said.

"I blame the people who voted against me, obviously, but I also blame myself. I misread the situation but I think we should have acted.

"I’m not saying it would have solved the Syrian crisis but it was a red line crossed. It was an appalling thing to happen.

"I made a passionate argument in Parliament but I lost that. I lost that vote.”

Updated: September 18, 2019 02:10 AM


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