Is Washington's 'red line' in Syria the prospect of victory for Bashar Assad?

Is Washington's 'red line' in Syria the prospect of victory for Bashar Assad?
Following a chemical attack in Syria there seems to be a rush to judgment, Ray McGovern, former CIA officer, told RT. Dan Glazebrook, political writer and journalist, and Marijn Nieuwenhuis, chemical weapons expert, University of Warwick, join the discussion.

The UN Security Council convened on Wednesday to discuss the reported use of chemical weapons in western Syrian town of Idlib on Tuesday.

The UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs said the means of the attack could not be confirmed. However, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, delivered an emotional speech to the international body that included images of children to argue in favor of retaliatory action.

The pictures were used in reporting of the alleged chemical weapons attack.

Meanwhile, Syria’s foreign minister has dismissed allegations that the Syrian Army had deployed chemical weapons in Idlib, saying the military will never use such weapons against its own people or even terrorists.

RT:  What kind of chemicals do you think the people on these videos were exposed to?

Marijn Nieuwenhuis: It is very difficult at this stage to decide which chemical weapon has been used. There have been a lot of reports of sarin being used, but also other nerve agents such as tabun have been claimed has been used. So we can’t really identify at this point which chemical it was.

Syria’s foreign minister has dismissed allegations that the Syrian Army had deployed chemical weapons in the city of Idlib, saying the military will never use such weapons against its own people or even terrorists. There’s been an unseemly rush to judgment here; I’ve never seen the likes of it. The question will be whether Trump is so impressionable; whether he believes the mainstream media here, who are drumming the drums for war, or whether he’ll - like Obama - listen to his military advisers. - Ray McGovern, former CIA officer

RT:  How hard is it to get access to such chemicals in Syria?

MN: A lot of these chemicals there are relatively easy to make. Chlorine would be an obvious example. Chlorine is a household product, and everybody would have this product at home. But even chemical weapons, such as sarin is relatively easy to produce – it is a simple chemical composition. But it is much more difficult, however, moving away from this theoretical possibility of creating chemical weapons and the operationalization of its dissemination. For that, you need an infrastructure, and there is a discrepancy therefore between the actual making and composing of chemical weapons and their distribution.

RT:  What about the destruction of chemical weapons back in 2014? Weren't Assad's chemical weapons seized and destroyed under UN supervision back then?

MN: Syria, after the Ghouta attack, was forced to sign and comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention Act. The OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] was meant to enforce that. Syria was as a consequence forced to submit a list of chemical weapons and was made responsible for the destruction of these chemical weapons. One of these chemical weapons was not on this list. This is chlorine. It can be found in any household and cannot possibly internationally be banned from being used in conditions of conflict. Sarin, however, was on that list and is legally and internationally banned by the convention.

It is interesting in the context of a few days ago – this comment by Nikki Haley [US ambassador to the UN] that there was a new policy in which the removal of Assad will “no longer be a priority.” The reality is that the removal of Assad is no longer a possibility, it doesn’t really matter what Trump’s opinions or priorities are on the matter. The new strategy is to accept Assad staying and for the US to try and carve out some enclaves of influence in Syria to prevent the Syrian government from actually restoring its authority and creating a reunified Syria.

We have now something that Obama never achieved in six years of warmongering on Syria, which is a direct US invasion and ground occupation in Syria… The real red line in Syria is not chemical weapons, the real red line for the US has always been the imminent prospect of a Syrian government victory. And the US troops are there to prevent that, let there be no mistake about that. - Dan Glazebrook, political writer and journalist

RT:  Both sides in the Syrian conflict have accused each other of using chemical weapons. How effective, do you think, are chemical weapons in the world like this?

MN: Throughout the 20th century, we have seen that despite the fact that relatively few people were victims of the consequences of such chemical attacks – not saying of course that the consequences are not tragic and horrible – it is, however, the imagination and psychology of chemical weapons that is more important… To understand its effects we have to recognize and appreciate what a chemical weapon is and what it does. It takes away your breath; it takes away your ability to breathe. This makes it very different from conventional weaponry, such as guns and other forms of weaponry… It uses the environment against the victims. It uses the dependency the person has on the environment in this sense, preventing the person from breathing. This is, of course, a very frightening thing.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.