France says it would recognize provisional Syrian government

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PARIS -- France will recognize a provisional Syrian government as soon as it has been formed, President Francois Hollande said Monday, urging Syria's fractured political opposition to establish one as soon as possible.

Mr. Hollande also said France, like the United States and Britain, would view any use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad as a legitimate justification for military intervention, even without a U.N. Security Council resolution.

"With our partners, we remain very vigilant regarding preventing the use of chemical weapons, which for the international community would be a legitimate reason for direct intervention," Mr. Hollande said in an annual foreign policy speech to French envoys, his first as president.

Mr. Hollande's statements represented the most forceful attempt by the group of Western nations calling for Mr. Assad's ouster to nudge Syria's marginalized and often squabbling opposition groups toward unity.

Despite repeated attempts, those groups, which include many exiled figures, have failed to agree on a common approach to ending Mr. Assad's rule, or to gain credibility, especially with Syrians inside the country. As the violence reaches deadlier peaks, attention has shifted to armed rebel groups, which have become the most prominent face of a rebellion that began almost 18 months ago as street protests.

"France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government -- inclusive and representative -- that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria," Mr. Hollande said. "We are including our Arab partners to accelerate this step," he said, adding: "France will recognize the provisional government of Syria once it is formed."

The French leader also reiterated a warning President Barack Obama made a week ago, seconded a few days later by British Prime Minister David Cameron, that military intervention could be justified if the Syrian government used unconventional weapons or moved them in a threatening fashion. Syria has said it would only use such weapons in the event of an external attack.

Mr. Hollande also confirmed that France was working with other nations on the possibility of establishing "buffer zones" inside Syria, presumably if the opposition forces can create them. The zones, formally to protect refugees, were an idea floated by Turkey, which has resisted suggestions that it use its own forces to invade Syria and create such zones for the Free Syrian Army and other rebels.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has spoken of possible no-fly zones over Syrian territory, from the Turkish border to Aleppo, to protect refugees, but he has provided no further details. He said the idea originated with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and was being studied.

Mr. Hollande also said France continued to press the Security Council for a more far-reaching resolution on Syria and criticized Russia and China for using their vetoes to protect Mr. Assad. He said their "attitude is weakening our capacity to ensure the United Nations Charter is respected."

His comments came as some of the war's deadliest violence remained focused on the outskirts of Damascus. In Daraya, southwest of the capital, opposition activists have accused the government of killing hundreds of people over the last week during a military assault.

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