U.N. Security Council Meets Over Syrian Strikes

Apr 14, 2018
Originally published on April 17, 2018 7:29 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Russia is protesting the airstrikes in Syria, accusing the U.S., United Kingdom and France of violating international law. Moscow called an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting. Council of course has been divided throughout this war. That was clear again today. We're joined now by NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Nice to be here.

SIMON: And why'd they call the meeting? What does - what did Russia want?

KELEMEN: Well, Russia wanted the Security Council to condemn what it calls an act of aggression, but its resolution that it proposed has failed. Remember; there are three permanent Security Council members that were...

SIMON: This was not a surprise, right?

KELEMEN: No surprise at all.

SIMON: Yeah, yeah.

KELEMEN: I mean, you know, the U.S., U.K. and France all took part in that military strike, so they're not going to condemn their own strike obviously. And they were all there defending the action as limited and targeted to upholding international norms. Just take a listen to what Nikki Haley had to say, the U.S. ambassador.

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NIKKI HALEY: The United Kingdom, France and the United States acted not as revenge, not as punishment, not as a symbolic show of force. We acted to deter the future use of chemical weapons by holding the Syrian regime responsible for its atrocities against humanity.

KELEMEN: And she also said that if Bashar al-Assad's forces carry out more chemical weapons, the U.S. is locked and loaded for a future attack.

SIMON: How does the U.N. secretary general finesse the position he has to maintain?

KELEMEN: He has to tread very carefully. He's reminding Security Council members that the U.N. charter is pretty clear about when force is authorized. But he also points out that chemical weapons use is, in his words, abhorrent, and he'd like to see the council come together on that. He says, you know, the Syrian people have gone through a litany of horrors for the past eight years, and the council has been divided, you know, not just on the chemical weapons issue but how to resolve this conflict.

SIMON: And of course the strikes have occurred while there are international inspectors who are on the ground in Syria. Do they just continue to do their work?

KELEMEN: They are continuing to do their work. I mean, but one of the problems is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons can send a team in and look and determine whether or not a chemical attack has occurred and what substance was used, but it can't assign blame. And that's something that Russia has been blocking. It doesn't want to see international investigators be able to point the fingers, and they've been blocking many resolutions on that. And that's one of the reasons why the U.S. and others said they had to act to uphold this international norm against chemical weapons use.

SIMON: President Trump has been on Twitter of course again today, and he said, mission accomplished, a phrase which has a history obviously for a lot of Americans and people around the world. But a civil war in Syria has been going on for seven years. Does anyone at the - on the U.N. - any member of the Security Council have an idea on how to bring it to a close?

KELEMEN: Well, they've been talking for years about having these negotiations in Geneva, a U.N.-led process. But the whole problem is the future of Bashar al-Assad. Russia and Iran intervened in this war in a big way and have been helping him, shielding him from international condemnation and also protecting him not only diplomatically but also with troops on the ground. And I've seen no signs that he's really ready to come and negotiate, certainly not an end to his regime.

SIMON: And certainly President Trump, Theresa May - they all said last night that the strikes weren't aimed at actually ending his regime.

KELEMEN: Right. They were saying it's not aimed at regime change. It's not aimed at entering the civil war. It was aimed specifically at these - at the use of chemical weapons.

SIMON: Michele Kelemen, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.