U.N. Ambassador: U.S. Got What It Sought With Syria Resolution
In an interview with All Things Considered's Robert Siegel, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power says the U.S. got what it sought in a U.N. draft resolution that calls for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons or face "consequences."
Robert pressed Power about that assertion, because the resolution seems to require a second resolution to approve the consequences. So given how hard Russia has fought to get to this point, what are the odds that it will acquiesce to a new resolution approving military force or further economic sanctions for non-compliance?
"It did take us a long time, certainly, to get a product of any kind out the council... As you know this is the first U.N. Security Council Resolution that places any obligations on Syria," Power said. "So it has taken an attack of this gravity and this horror to get Russia to join us in a cooperative posture. But the resolution itself is imposing a pretty distinct form of accountability on the Syrian regime in taking its chemical weapons away and in rendering it legally binding and in requiring that those chemical weapons be taken away. So while I'm sure there will be disagreements about whether there is compliance... at a strategic level, we're going to know whether Syria's chemical weapons have been destroyed. We're going to know whether they've been used. And we think we'll have the force of global opinion on our side in the event we come back to the council."
"But you would have to come back to the Council if it came to that — to approve any consequences for non-compliance?" Robert asked.
"We got what we sought in this resolution which was deciding that the Council would impose Chapter VII measures in the event of non-compliance," Power responded. "We also got criteria by which non-compliance would be measured. And reporting back to the Security Council, which was something that was resisted initially. That reporting back is important because it means the inspectors on the ground can come back to the Council even on a day to day basis to complain about any obstruction they are facing."
Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter includes a provision for taking military action against another country.
As we've reported, the draft resolution is the culmination of weeks of diplomatic haggling with the Russians, who have said that there is no Chapter VII trigger in the resolution.
If you remember, as Congress was weighing whether to authorize military action, Russia seized on an apparently off-the-cuff suggestion by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the U.S. was willing to back off its war footing if Syria gave up its entire chemical arsenal quickly and in a verifiable manner.
Syria quickly signed papers that opened the door for membership into the Chemical Weapons Convention and the U.S. and Russia worked through the U.N. to try to put together a resolution that would enforce the U.S.-Russia agreement.
The full Security Council is scheduled to meet to debate the measure on Friday night.
We'll post the as-aired version of Robert's interview with Samantha Power later tonight.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Joining us is Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Welcome to the program.
AMBASSADOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Ambassador Power, the deal is said to be legally binding and backed up by the threat of sanctions or possibly military action. But if Syria doesn't comply, wouldn't those consequences require a second resolution? And given what the first one took, doesn't it seem very unlike that there is any prospect, say, of U.N.-approved military action against Syria?
POWER: Well, it did take us a long time, certainly, to get a product of any kind out of the council. As you know, this is the first U.N. Security Council resolution that places any obligations on Syria. So it has taken an attack of this gravity and this horror to get Russia to join us in a more cooperative posture. But the resolution itself is imposing a pretty distinct form of accountability on the Syrian regime in taking its chemical weapons away and in rendering it legally binding and in requiring that those chemical weapons be taken away. At a strategic level, we're going to know whether Syria's chemical weapons have been destroyed. We're going to know whether or not they've been used, and we think that we'll have the force of global public opinion on our side in the event we'd come back to the council.
SIEGEL: But has Syria and have individual Syrians responsible, for that matter, have they just gotten away with the August 21 attack that the U.S. has killed 1,400 people?
POWER: Well, let's not forget that President Obama's reason for pursuing military action was to degrade Assad's chemical weapons capability so he could never use these weapons again, taking those chemical weapons away entirely, eliminating a program that has not only been used to slaughter people with whom Assad disagrees and children and women and everything that everybody is well aware of. But they've also provided a tactical military advantage for his regime (unintelligible).
SIEGEL: But that's a prospective consequence. The resolution was stripped of language that called for those who used chemical weapons to be held accountable, and it would've granted jurisdiction at one point to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to try Syrians for war crimes. Why was that language removed and is that wise?
POWER: I think this - it's not a big secret the feelings that Russia and China have about the International Criminal Court. We are, as a government, supporting a range of measures that will ensure that when the day comes where Assad is in the dock that the evidence will be there in order to ensure meaningful criminal accountability. In the meantime, we're trying to ensure that Syrian civilians are not targeted again with one of the worst weapons the world has ever seen.
SIEGEL: Ambassador Powers, since you are a journalist covering the Balkan Wars, you've been as engaged as anyone in trying to contain threats of wartime atrocities, threats of genocide, is the use of chemical weapons so atrocious that a bloody sectarian civil war that kills 100,000, displaces millions, is significantly more atrocious with chemical weapons being used than proceeding without chemical weapons?
POWER: Well, from the standpoint of the families who've lost loved ones and seen their neighborhoods torn to shreds, I don't think it is material that difference...
SIEGEL: It is not material, you're saying, for them.
POWER: Not to those individuals who have lost their lives. I think what you've seen in terms of the international community coming together is a recognition though that a weapon of this nature, when in the hands, for instance, of non-state actors like al-Nusra or Hezbollah, could pose a threat, not only of those atrocities inside Syria but to the neighbors, to the United States. I mean, this is something that can cross borders and cause irreparable damage of the kind we saw on August 21 in Syria and well beyond.
SIEGEL: But what do you say to Syrian rebels who say we've been left high and dry? The U.S. and France were about to strike. We were about to have some encouragement on the battlefield. Yes, you've reached agreement on chemical weapons, but you and the Russians are now together and we no longer can count on that air support.
POWER: Well, we are providing, as you know, a whole host of assistance to the opposition in order to strengthen their prospects inside Syria in order to help expedite the end of the Assad regime. And I think while you're right about some of their public statements, they also recognize that a weapon that they had no defenses against over the last year is now, for the time being, neutralized. And if this resolution is effective and is enforced as it needs to be, it would be a weapon that would be eliminated.
SIEGEL: Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, thanks a lot for talking with us today.
POWER: Thank you so much.
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.