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NATO’s secretary general says chemical attacks in Syria “can’t go unanswered” – but distanced the alliance from getting involved.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with euronews, added he was “gravely concerned” about Syria and convinced Bashar al-Assad’s regime were behind the Damascus atrocity.
But Rasmussen said he did not foresee a role for NATO.
Andreï Beketov, euronews:
“Secretary General, you kindly agreed to talk to Euronews at the moment when the world is deciding what to do about the chemical attack near Damascus. What does NATO do, is going to, or is planning to do about Syria?”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary general:
“First of all let me stress that I don’t foresee any further role for NATO. NATO already plays its part as a forum for consultations among allies and we have deployed Patriot missiles to ensure effective defence and protection of the Turkish population and the Turkish territory.
“I don’t foresee a further role. But having said that we are gravely concerned about the situation in Syria and it’s my firm belief that the chemical attacks in Syria can’t go unanswered. It is necessary that the international community sends a firm message to dictators all over the world that you can’t use chemical weapons without any reaction.”
“By doing what? How to send this signal?”
“Well, that’s for individual nations to figure out. As you know there are considerations right now. But I think it’s of utmost importance that the international community sends a very clear message. It is a responsibility for the international community to uphold and enforce the international ban against the use of chemical weapons.”
“How convinced are you that the Syrian government committed this atrocity?”
“I am convinced that the Syrian government is responsible. Variety of sources point to the Syrian regime as responsible. And I don’t believe that the Syrian opposition has the capacity to conduct such an attack of that scale and scope. It’s irrational to think that the opposition would attack their own people in the areas they already control, with chemical weapons. There is no doubt to my mind that the Syrian regime is responsible.”
“Why do you take the alleged chemical attack much more seriously than the killing of civilians by bullets?”
“Of course the killings that we have seeing in the Syrian conflict are outrageous. Maybe more than 100 thousand people were killed. It’s horrendous. But obviously the use of chemical weapons is something very special. Chemical weapons can be use in a limited way. But chemical weapons can be easily turned into a weapon of mass destruction. And that’s why you have very very strong restrictions in the international conventions. Actually they ban the use of chemical weapons. And that’s why international community has a particular responsibility when it comes to enforcing those international conventions.”
“You know that Russia supports the Syrian government, it supplies it with weapons, Russia has naval base in Syria. Whoever takes any action against Syria – aren’t they confronting or in danger of confronting Russia? Are you concerned about that?”
“I strongly regret the division within the international community. And I think that divided international community holds a lot of responsibility when it comes to the conflict in Syria. But I think by the end of the day the Russians will realise that much is at stake and they wouldn’t engage in a conflict. I do believe that it is a responsibility for the whole of the international community to safeguard the international conventions against the use of chemical weapons.”
“The situation with Russia is a bit tense at the moment. We are talking with Vilnius. Soon, in the autumn, Lithuania will take part in a NATO exercise to simulate the invasion by a foreign power, as I understand. Russia and Belarus will conduct manoeuvres in the same region. Moscow is already saying it’s reminiscent of the Cold war period. Do you agree?”
“No. Now, I think everybody should calm down. It’s a quite natural thing that militaries do exercises. I mean it’s necessary. We do it, Russians do it. I don’t think the problem are exercises as such. The problem is if there is no transparency. And that’s why we have provided full transparency. We have invited the Russians to learn more about our exercise. We have nothing to hide. And we encourage Russia to brief us on their exercise as well. Actually we have already had excellent discussions within the NATO-Russia council. We appreciated that. So I think when it comes to military exercises most important thing is to have a full transparency so that there will be no misperceptions and no misunderstandings.”
“The United Stated have offered what they consider as concession to Russians in term of the missile shield in Europe and disarmament. What’s your reaction to their reaction, to Russia’s reaction to these offers?”
“First of all let me stress that we decided to build a NATO missile defence because we want effective protection of our population against missile attacks. And we know that more then 30 countries in the world have or acquiring missile technologies. Some of them do have a range sufficient to hit targets in Europe. And we want to protect our population. That’s why we will build this NATO system. We have invited Russia to cooperate. So far they have not responded positively. Recently the Americans slightly changed their missile defence approach but it won’t change the fact that by 2018 there will be full coverage of the NATO missile defence system.”
“That’s all we have time for. Mister Rasmussen, thank you very much for the interview for Euronews.”