EU blames Assad for Syrian chemical attack, urges 'clear and strong response'

The European Union said Saturday there was “strong evidence” that the Syrian regime carried out last month’s chemical weapons attacks in the Damascus suburbs, and urged a “clear and strong response.”

The EU statement agreed that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime is likely behind last month’s attack, but cautioned against military action until a United Nations inspectors’ report is released.

The move is a boost to U.S. efforts to rally international support, as it the first time the 28-member EU has issued a joint statement on the Syrian attack. It occurred as Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with EU foreign ministers in Lithuania.

But it also urged action to be taken through the United Nations Security Council — which Russia has prevented — and praised French President Francois Hollande for saying Friday that his country would wait for the results of the U.N. report before taking any military action.

“We note the on-going UN investigation on the 21st of August attack and further investigations on other chemical weapons attacks carried out in this conflict,” the statement said. “It hopes a preliminary report of this first investigation can be released as soon as possible and welcomes President Hollande‘s statement to wait for this report before any further action.”

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported that U.N. inspectors could submit their initial findings by the end of next week, according to The Associated Press.

That timeline could correspond with congressional action to vote on using military force in Syria, although the Obama administration has said it does not need to wait for the U.N. report because it has enough evidence of the attack.

The EU also called for using the International Criminal Court to hold those responsible for the attack accountable.

The EU’s position comes after 11 of the G-20 nations signed onto a joint statement on Friday backing U.S. military action in Syria.

Germany was not one of those countries, but German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Saturday that the country was signing onto the G-20 statement after the EU agreed to its position, according to the AP.