US Strike on Syria Staved Off
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Prashad Report.
Now joining us is Vijay Prashad. He is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, and his most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.
Thanks for joining us, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD, EDWARD SAID CHAIR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, BEIRUT: Pleasure. Thank you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Vijay, let’s talk about the latest news coming out of Syria. We have five permanent members of the UN Security Council. They’ve met to discuss a resolution on disarming Syria of its chemical weapons. The U.S., France, and U.K. are demanding a precise timetable for the disarmament. They’re also looking to include a threat of military action in the final resolution. So do you think if there is a final UN resolution to disarm Assad of all of his chemical weapons, that this will eventually prevent the U.S. from striking Syria?
PRASHAD: Well, I think that, you know, an agreement was reached in Geneva between the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov, and the American Secretary of State, John Kerry. That agreement had Syria on a timetable. Syria within a week was to go to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That’s the UN body that oversees or at least administers the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Syria did submit its paperwork to the OPCW, and that has gone forward into the UN’s process. So it’s going to take about a month for an audit to be done. Then inspections will be conducted. Certain sites will be sealed. Perhaps other weapons will be removed and destroyed. You know, this is going to run–this process will run perhaps into next year. So that’s one part. That’s the deal that was conducted in Geneva.
Now, the French and the Americans and the British are eager to have a UN Security Council resolution as a sort of added insurance to make sure the Assad regime complies with the agreement that was signed in Geneva. They would like this UN resolution to have a so-called Chapter VII protection for the UN. In other words, it would come with the use or the threat of the use of military force. If Syria breaks the agreement, then the member states of the UN, which means basically the United States, will be able to conduct a military strike on Syria.
Russia and China, ever since the resolution that the UN Security Council put out on Libya, you know, UN Security Council Resolution 1973, has been–they have been very cautious and will not permit permit a Chapter VII resolution. Instead, they might permit at most a Chapter VI resolution, which has as its punishments sanctions and other economic kind of, you know, leverage against a party that offends the Security Council’s judgment. So that’s the most that can happen.
But we should not confuse two things. The Kerry-Lavrov agreement in Geneva was not premised on any Security Council resolution. That was an agreement between the United States and Russia which had Syria say that they would go to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and begin the process of entering the no-chemical-weapon regime. So that is happening separate from anything in the Security Council. So these two things are not actually linked directly.
DESVARIEUX: And what about this argument that some are making that even if we disarm Assad of all of his chemical weapons, it’s no assurance that the rebels, for example, who may have possession over chemical weapons will use them in the future? What do you make of that?
PRASHAD: Well, you know, there’s no guarantee that Mr. Assad well relieve himself of all his weapons, either, or sections of the military will relieve themselves. You know, there’s simply no guarantee when any country comes in to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And, of course, if there are non-state actors involved, you know, among the rebels and suchlike, there is no guarantee, because they will not be party to this agreement with the OPCW. I mean, the fact is that the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, these are organization set up to do deal with state actors, not with non-state actors. So, you know, the short answer, Jessica, is there is simply no prohibition in this particular agreement.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s talk about the UN report that came out on Monday. Do you anticipate that the UN might go to the ICC with this report in a way to hold Assad responsible, even though it wasn’t explicitly said that Assad was responsible for these chemical attacks? Do you see them going to the ICC to try to get some sort of–to get Assad–to have Assad be held responsible?
PRASHAD: Well, you know, when the committee was put together to go and investigate in Ghouta in east of Damascus, the chemical weapons or the attack initially on August 21, you know, their remit (in other words, what they were tasked to do) was to see if chemical weapons indeed were used in that attack over August 21. And in order to, you know, get the, basically, support of all the members of the Security Council, to get the support of the government in Damascus, the secretary-general had to insist that the remit be very narrow: only to see whether chemical weapons had or had not been used on that day.
And so the three-person team arrived in Ghouta with their staff, they conducted tests, and they came away with material which demonstrated to them that indeed sarin gas had been used. They also were able to make the case that conventional rocket shells had been used to carry the sarin gas. And they suggested that those rocket shells came from the north, northwest of the Ghouta plane, which suggests somewhere from Damascus.
Now, that’s as much as the report says. The report doesn’t make any claims on who might have conducted the attack. Based on the kind of information in the report, various people are interpreting it to suggest that it could have been nobody else but the regime. But this is an open-ended question. I mean, this is not settled by this report. It could have been the regime. It could have been rogue elements with the regime. It could perhaps have been the rebels. I mean, it could have been anybody. That’s not affirmed by this report.
So now the question is that the Russians and others are asking for further investigation and, you know, to see who might have conducted this attack. And, you know, so in–the UN report can be used in two ways. One, the secretary-general or other powers can ask the International Criminal Court to open a file, to start collecting information whether war crimes were committed by, you know, Mr. Assad, his generals, etc., just to open a file, to start building a case.
Secondly, the UN secretary-general can ask another investigative team to go and study whether they can find out who fired the weapons. That’s basically where we are.
And the Russians have been quite obdurate. They do not want any kind of precipitous analysis, you know, an analysis which is based on this information. They say more evidence is required, they say more investigation is needed, and they say that this investigation should include not only whether the regime conducted the attack, but perhaps it should look into the question of the rebels as well.
We are a long way from a settled opinion on what happened on August 21, at least as far as the United Nations and its specialized agencies are concerned.
DESVARIEUX: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Vijay.
PRASHAD: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.