France cannot go in alone’ on Syria, official says

Protesters hold placards showing Syrian President Bashar Assad during a demonstration against French and foreign military involvement in Syria, in Paris on Saturday. Thibault Camus / AP

PARIS - A French official said his country would not act alone against Syria after President Barack Obama said he would seek approval from Congress before launching any military action to punish the government of Bashar Assad for a gas attack that killed hundreds, making Paris the last main ally in the coalition to back off an immediate attack. 

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"France cannot go in alone," French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in a radio interview amid growing pressure on President Francois Hollande to put the question of intervention to a vote in French parliament. "A coalition is necessary."

"We are entering a new phase. We now have some time and with this time, we must put it to good use so that things move," he added. 

The statement followed several days of prevarication among supporters of Western military intervention. 

Only hours after Secretary of State John Kerry called Assad "a thug and a murderer" and accused the government of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people, President Barack Obama changed his mind about when and how to intervene.

On Saturday, Obama announced that he would seek approval from Congress before launching any military action against Syria. The move surprised many of his own advisers as well as military analysts who predicted U.S. Navy ships were on the brink of firing missiles into areas around Damascus.

In a shock vote on Thursday, Britain's parliament rejected a proposal for military action in Syria.

Despite saying France needed to wait, Valls said that Assad needed to be punished.

"Chemical massacre by Damascus cannot go unpunished and the determination of the President of the Republic is intact," he said. "To gas a population constitutes a crime against humanity and it would be worse to do nothing."

Also on Sunday, a Syrian state-run newspaper on Sunday called President Barack Obama's decision to seek congressional approval before taking military action against Syria "the start of the historic American retreat," according to The Associated Press. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.