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NATO: Use Of Chemical Weapons A 'Flagrant Violation' Of International Law


For more international reaction, we turn now to the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. He's also the former prime minister of Norway, and he's with us now from NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Thank you so much for being here.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Now, you've issued a statement saying that you support these strikes, quoting here, "to reduce the regime's ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons" - unquote. Can I conclude, then, that you are convinced that Syria's government did use chemical weapons on its people and that military action was the appropriate response?

STOLTENBERG: We were very thoroughly briefed by three allies today - France, the United Kingdom and United States - and we have no reason to doubt their findings and their assessments. And we also know that this chemical attack on the 7th of April took place in a area where the Assad regime is operating, supported by Russia and Iran. We know that actually there has been independent investigations investigating previous chemical attacks where it has been clearly attributed - stated that Assad's regime is responsible. So this has happened before.

And then we also know that the World Health Organization has reported that they have seen people, civilians with symptoms consistent with exposure to chemical weapons, such us foaming at the mouth. So I think there can be no doubts that there is all reason to react. And we support the way the three allies - NATO allies reacted last night.

MARTIN: And what was the justification under international law?

STOLTENBERG: The use of chemical weapons is a flagrant violation of international law. It violates the convention banning chemical weapons. It violates multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. And it violates also agreements that actually Syria signed when they promised to abolish, to get rid of all their chemical weapons. I think that we have a responsibility, all of us, to make sure that these weapons are not accepted as some kind of normal thing. And that's the reason why the international community had to react the way it did.

MARTIN: It's been noted that Germany didn't take part in the strike, although the prime minister, Angela Merkel, did say she does support the strike as, quote "necessary and appropriate" - unquote. But it has been noted that Germany didn't take part, and I wondered why.

STOLTENBERG: Well, I think that we have to understand that all 29 allies in a statement today express strong support to the actions conducted by three NATO allies. And they have consulted with all of us and with me and also with Germany before they conducted these strikes. So U.S., U.K. and France have more than enough capabilities to conduct the airstrikes we saw last night, and I think that was a good way to do it the way we did it last night.

MARTIN: Is NATO concerned about Russian retaliation?

STOLTENBERG: Yes. But at the same time, I think we all see and also Russia sees that this was very targeted towards the facilities and the capabilities in Syria. It was in no way targeted Russian forces in Syria. And also the normal lines of military deconfliction between the U.S., NATO allies and Russia was used before the attack.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Mr. Secretary General, thank you so much for speaking with us. May I ask you, what should the international community's role be in Syria now? Should it be to just keep this line about chemical weapons, or is there something further that should be done to bring this conflict to a close?

STOLTENBERG: The most important thing we all can do and the international community can do is to support all efforts to find a political, peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria. That's the reason why NATO strongly supports a U.N.-led peace process. We call on Russia to also use all its influence on the Assad regime, to sit down and play a constructive role in the U.N.-led efforts to find a political solution. There's no military solution to the conflict in Syria.

At the same time, it is absolutely necessary to react when we saw that chemical weapons were used. And I actually believe that if the international community, if NATO allies, have just been silent and watched the use of chemical weapons and accepted that, we would actually have not only undermined the credibility of the ban on chemical weapons, the chemical weapon convention, but also the possibilities for a political negotiated solution because the Assad regime has to understand that they have to sit down and find the political solution.

MARTIN: That's Jens Stoltenberg. He's the former prime minister of Norway. He is currently serving as secretary general of NATO, and he was kind enough to join us from NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Mr. Secretary General, thank you so much for speaking with us.

STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.