tv Amanpour on PBS PBS April 13, 2018 6:00am-6:31am PDT
. welcome to amanpour on pbs. tonight the waiting game. britain, the united states and france weigh up their response so syria after that deadly chemical weapons attack. prompt threats of military action. so what moves should the west make? i'm joined by the former head of british intelligence mi 6 join sawyer own the retired general in nato jean paul palomero. good evening, everyone and welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in london. right now america and its allies are preparing for a military
response to the use of chemical weapons in syria. here's president trump earlier today. >> we're looking very, very seriously, very closely at that whole situation and we'll see what happens, folks. we'll see what happens, but now we have to make some further decisions so they'll be made fairly soon. >> so the defense secretary james mattis says the goal has not yet been given. he says, though that chemical warfare must be stopped for the sake of our civilization as the british prime minister head a special cabinet meeting on how to respond to assad's use of poiseen gas, the french president macron laid out the case for intervention in an interview today. >> translator: we have proof that chemical weapons were used last week, at least and they were used by the regime. we cannot i can violate
international law do that. >> so while the french president is cat gorric russia's military said that he's prepared to hit back if russian servicemen are killed. and pressure is mounting on moscow as the organization for prohibition of chemical weapons confirms that it was the nerve agent novichok that poisoned the former russian spy. meantime, a team of opcw investigators is on its way to syria and start investigating the douma incident this saturday. now john sawyer the former head of britain's intelligence service and a former ambassador to the u.n. me joined me to discuss strategy and outcome. so john sawyers, welcome to the program. >> thank you. >> there is going to be some kind of strike, some kind of response, right? it's not if, it's when? >> i certainly think there
should be a strike. what we've seen is repeated use of chemical weapons by the syrian regime, which is contrary to all the international and legal norms, treaties that all the major powers have signed up to, and the maintaining the taboo against chemical weapons that's frayed over the last five years or so. we've seen a chemical agent used on the streets of an english city. i think it's really important that the western powers act to re-establish the norm that no one but no one uses chemical weapons. >> do you think that's a case that parliament and people accept? the french president says they have proof. now you just mentioned the novichok weapons against skripal here and the head of gchq came out with a very forceful statement about it and opcw, the international antichemical
weapon group have said that they verified the uk report on what killed or rather what poisoned the skripal. so to your point, is a case being made that this is now the time to finally draw a red line under the use of chemical weapons? >> the red line was drawn in 1925 after the first world war and grandfather and great grandfathers who died in the first world war, one consol lation they may have taken away was that chemical weapons would never be used again. in 1997 we all signed up for the chemical weapons convention, which requires dismantling of all chemical weapons stocks. this was a big step forward in humanity. and now what's happened is because of the conflict in syria and we've seen it used in the iraq/iran war back in the 1980s as well, people seem to think that using chemical weapons is sort of okay if you can get away with it. it is important we take action to restore that norm.
now, had we taken action in 2013 and perhaps we wouldn't have needed to take action in 2018 and maybe we need to do more now than we would've had to do back in 2013. but this is -- if we do nothing, we just accept or we don't approved of chemical weapons but not going to do anything about it when they're used, then they'll become more normal thing to happen in the world and we don't want that. >> if you were still the u.n. ambassador to the uk do you believe that you'd be able to convince the prime minister to take action without going to parliament? >> i'm not involved in that. when i was the chief mi 6 david cameron was prime minister and we did actually convince him but he made the mistake of taking this to parliament. now -- >> he made the mistake. that's really interesting? >> parliament's role is to debate and decide on legislation and to hold the government to account. parliament's not there to take executive decisions on behalf of the government and this is an executive decision to uphold an international norm. i don't think this is an issue for parliament. they should debate it after the
fact and they can hold the government to account for the execution. >> prime minister doesn't need permission? >> no. >> and what about in the u.s. congress, because obviously there's some words from some people in congress that the president should not rely on what they're now calling outdated and expired resolutions and authorizations that he too should go to congress? >> we're not trying -- we're not going to war in syria. we're not trying to alter the outcome of the syrian civil war. we had a chance to do that back in 2012, actually, when we could've established safe zones in syria, we could have involved western forces against the assad regime. we opted not to do that. we then decided not to even uphold the red line on chemical weapons. that created a space for the russians and the iranians to settle syria -- syrian civil war on their terms and that's basically resolved now. we've had the success and this is an area where the obama and trump administrations have given
a good lead is the destruction of islamic state, isis on the ground in syria and iran. that's an important step forward but the reality is the syrian regime have prevailed in this conflict. this issue now is not about the syrian civil war. this issue is about use of chemical weapons and we need to focus on that. there needs to be clear in the public justification of action is that this is what it's about a any future use of chemical weapons face a similar response. >> so what the strategy and at the same time how do you convince the russians that this is a strategy that they too need to be involved in? >> i think the russian dimension is important because there's been a series of russian actions against which the west has pushed back. we talked about the skripal case and i think the russians were surprised that it wasn't just britain that responded but 26 countries as well as the nato
headquarters, that it expelled russian intelligence officers and the united states has taken action in response to russian meddling in the u.s. elections with a whole series of sanctions against oligarchs and russian companies and we're now seeing this action in syria. now, this isn't part of a concerted plot against russia. but the russians might see it that way. so one thing we -- that's really important here is clarity about what this is about to the russians. we had that during the cold war. it's decayed a bit, frankly, over the last 20 years. and i think the crisis in ukraine in 2014 was in part a consequence of poor quality communications between above all washington and moscow between the west and moscow generally. >> but what about the fear that russia has basically vetoed what the u.s. and its allies want to do just in the last few days regarding syria? what about the fear that they also could be targeted? we see the map russian bases, syrian bases, iranian bases,
it's all interlinked? >> well, they are. i think when the trump administration took some action a year ago, fairly modest action, they notified the russians in advance that there was going to be a strikes and the russia should keep out of the way. i think russians and americans have gone to great lengths to avoid a direct confrontation. there was actually one two months ago where russian mercenaries and so-called battalion were attacked by u.s. forces. i don't think either side realized how many russians were involved and how many russians might have been killed in that. neither side wants a repeat of that, but equally making a few holes in a runway is not going to be enough to deter the syrians from doing this again. it didn't have that impact the last time because the syrians have used chemical weapons once more. so it's going to have to be a notch up from that. >> what is that?
>> they'll have to target some regime installations, some -- >> such as? >> i'm not going to speculate on that. i think the trouble with this delay is that syrians and iraqis before them that when there's a likelihood of military strikes they will jam the likely targets full of women and children and make it look like a western massacre. the likely source -- likely targets being identified by the pentagon and british minster of defense and french counter parts there will be scrutinized very carefully against those sorts of practices. and i think it is a problem about this sort of delay. you need to pull together the evidence, you need to be confident that this is a syrian regime use of chemical weapons. i think -- >> the president said that. >> exactly. i think mrs. may and president
trump also have come -- be coming to that conclusion. if you now be strung out for too long and that will be what the russians and syrians are trying to do, then the military response loses its impact. >> from your knowledge of the relationship between russia, the u.s., et cetera, what do you think is going to be the end result of any action that is taken right now? i mean there are many critics who say that just a bunch of feel good military strikes is simply going to continue emboldening assad? that he's seen the west response before and he's basically laughing at it? >> that's why you need to take steps which are sufficient to cause him some pain. as i say, we're not trying to effect the stage the outcome of the syrian civil war. too late for that, basically. but he didn't need to use these chemical weapons. he was actually as i understand
it involved in an negotiation with the opposition groups in douma which ran into some difficulty and in order to finally tip the balance in his direction, he used these chemicals weapons completely unnecessarily as a reckless use of any sort of weaponry of that stage above all chemical weapons. and against civilian targets as well as the opposition fighters. you can't -- we just can't allow that to go unanswered. now obviously you don't want to escalate this so it becomes a conflict between the united states and russia. russia, of course, will stand by their ally. they will condemn western military action and they will try to confuse the picture as much as possible, that standard russian operation. the west has certain values in this. we need to stick together. the important thing with an assert the russian is we stand up for t we have the capability to defend ourselves both on the
ground and militarily and in the cyber realm as well. we need very clear communications with the russians which i think we can improve on. >> really interesting. thank you very much. >> thank you. w, france is playing a lead-in role on the syria response and i'm joined now in paris by the retired general jean paul palermo. a former chief of star not are the french air force. welcome to the program. >> it's a pleasure to be with you. >> i wonder what you make of your president categorically stating today in an interview that they have proof, they are convinced that the assad regime used chemical weapons of some sort on douma? >> you know, he had policy interview by lunch and he started by that. that was a critical point in his
interview and it was very clear and he cannot say that lightly. in the past you have seen that france has been very serious about proving the case. we remember what happened in 2003 but so i'm very, very confident that he has the proof in his hands. >> how do you think he got it and i'm really interested by what you're saying because obviously france did not believe the world had proof for an envision of iraq and therefore opposed it. how do you think the french have the proof because the opcw is not yet on the ground? >> there are many people on the ground as you know and this is the work which is made by our intelligence service and not today but on the long-term and alongside with the allies. this is a joint effort which is -- which brings proof -- such proof in that case. >> general, you are a military
man. you just heard britain's former head of intelligence, mi 6 talk about what needs to happen now, it can't be as he said just a couple of holes made in a runway. what do you think needs to happen to send a clear deterrent message? >> first and foremost, i'm very pleased to see that the international community represented by three members of the security council is prepared to to something and when i speak about international community, i speak about those countries which aring to comply and apply the rules that they have set themselves. there are 192 countries who signed the convention on chemical weapons. so this is true that we need a diplomatic message and a military message all together. we need to make sure that it is
not only as you say those strikes which will not have a military effect because the war is more or less over. there will be a lot of population that will still die but we know what will be the outcome of the war, unfortunately. >> so what do you think -- give me a little bit more of an idea of what more looks like and you heard what john sawyer said, the longer there's a delay, he seemed to imply the less effective this military action could be because the more time the russians, the syrians and everybody have to move their stuff around. >> we call that the targeting as, you know, and i'm sure there's been a lot of time spent in this targeting process jointly with a lot of tensions between the allied -- president macron recently two days ago when he had a press conference said that what would be striking
will be the chemical capacities, which means a lot. that could be chemical stock piles, why not. training center, research center. there's some big targets here, very remote but we can expect that the syrians and they do whatever they want to to travel the game if i may say so. >> what do you think the danger of a russian response is? >> that will be strange that russian soldier will be there in a chemical research center or in a chemical depot. so what they do there? i think the russians have to make their mind about how they fit in the international community because now that really proven by ngos, by official organizations by
intelligence -- they have to make their mind not to go too far. we have been put on the -- i would say -- on the defensive by syrians too long. since 2013 they fooled us. in 2013 they declared that they would get rid of all their chemical weapons and they applied to the chemical conventional in 2014 and four years later, what do they do? they use chemical weapons and they use that massively. that's terrible. >> and russia as you say was meant to guarantee the removal of syria's chemical weapons. can i ask you as a former chief of the air force, what are the risks for planes going over into that air space? do the forces on the ground where the syrian or russian or iranian have the antiaircraft
capability to shoot down alied planes? >> very advanced mainly russian antiaircraft capability as 400 for instance, which are really -- but i would say the good news that we have long range cruise missiles that we can use whether by air or from naval platforms. so with the allied all together we have diverse capabilities which are able to -- i would say to reduce the risk. there still be risk, obviously but to reduce the risk for our crews. >> finally, do you believe france is in the lead militarily or how do you think the forces will be divided up? >> we are very used and
certainly able to work together so depending on the mission and target there will be a division of effort. i'm pretty sure there will be a strong coordination which is certainly being put forward, put together now by the staff and when it starts in other places in libya or in iraq it work perfectly because they are trained to do that. we do that on a permanent basis so i'm very confident we will achieve what will be decided about the political masters. >> and of course, we have to remind everybody that for several years you've all been in a coalition against isis, a coalition in the air. can i finally ask you, you talked about your political masters, obviously military is not the only tool here, do you believe your political masters have a political strategy that can follow-up with any military response?
>> well, i think there has been some great diplomatic efforts to put international community together, so i'm sure that there will be a follow on diplomatic efforts and as well i would say communication hopefully communication efforts to the people, to the cities and to everybody to explain what we are doing. >> all right. >> it's certainly crucial that the people understand what is at stake. this is the future -- this is the future of is it a about the, security, this is enforcement of international rules. this is what is crucial to to that now. >> general, thank you so much for giving us your perspective from paris tonight. now, as the coalition makes its case for action on capitol hill, hearings were under way to fill a vital foreign policy position. the former cia director mike pompeo hoping to be confirmed as the next u.s. secretary of state. he took a jab at rex tillerson's
tenure and he pledged to do better for state department staffers and diplomats who tell him they feel undervalued. >> i'm also sure how demoralizing it is to have vacancies. i'll do my part to end those vacancies. i'll need your help. i'll work everyday to provide dedicated leadership and convey my faith in their work, their professionalism just as i've done with the workforce at the central intelligence agency. >> now, earlier this week the former u.s. secretary of state albright told me that revitalizing the u.s.'s toolbox is vital especially right now. >> i think he has a very big job as far as the state department is concerned, because it really in so many ways has been undermined and weakened by, first of all, the cuts that president trump proposed and that secretary tillerson supported, and then the fact
that so many of the diplomats have actually have left which i think is very sad because they were accused of not being loyal. the diplomat, the foreign service officers and the civil servants are dedicated, patriotic americans and they know what they're supposed to be doing to represent america, so i think the main thing that mr. pompeo has to do is to really appreciate the people that work there and do everything they he can to make sure that they have the resources for their job and learn a little bit about the state department before he begins to think that he has to move everything around. so i do think he has a big job. i look forward to listening and finding out what he says in his hearings. >> the trump administration believes that, you know, in many ways it's all a question of money, of getting the best deal, in other words, the best bargain across department with allies as you've seen, but also that in
this age of -- i don't know -- e-mail and social media maybe you don't need so many diplomats or so many ambassadors. what do you think the state department diplomats, what is their real -- i don't want to say use, but their importance today? >> well, i think it is very similar to what they're importance is always been. they are the eyes and ears and mouths of the president of the united states or the head of any country. they are there in order to explain a lot about the country that they're representing and to learn about the country where they are stationed. i teach a course on the national security toolbox and diplomacy is the major tool of international relations. it is the language and the means by which countries communicate with each other. so i do think that they are very important. the thing that has changed quite
a lot, however, are the means of communication. i do think that technology and information has changed a lot about diplomacy, but not the role of the diplomats in terms of caring on relationships with the country where they are stationed or multilaterally in organizations explaining and working out solutions. >> and you probably know that there are quite a lot of groups asking congress to look very, very carefully at pompeo's record and indeed john bolton's as well although he's not up for confirmation. there are many who are complaining that mike pompeo has been on the record with antiislamic comments and affiliated with some antiislamic groups in the united states. how concerned are you about that? >> well, i am concerned about that which is why i want to know more about what he thinks in terms of his hearings. the hearings are going to be very important. they are the way and it is written in the constitution that senate does advise and consent
on the nomination of cab -- of these cabinet members and diplomats so i take a great interest in the hearings and i know the senators are poised to ask a lot of hard questions exactly on the kinds of things that you've asked and i want to know what the answers are also. >> former u.s. secreta of state madeleine albright ending our conversations on this pivotal moment. that is it for our program today. join us tomorrow night.