Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Situation in Syria

Delivered in Plenary - 11 September 2013

Mr President, Madam High Representative

Syria remains the most pressing challenge to international peace and security, with more than 100 000 dead, 2 million refugees and now the alleged horrific use by the Assad regime of sarin gas on 21 August 2013. This violates customary international law under the 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol and rightly demands a robust response by the international community.

I too suggested a no-fly zone as the only way to deter further use of chemical weapons and force Assad back to the negotiating table, given that a limited surgical strike now is likely to hit mainly empty buildings.

The ECR Group welcomes the newest proposals on the table from President Obama to drop the US plan for a very effective military strike in exchange for the handover and destruction of Syrian weapons of mass destruction. The fact that Russia and Iran have readily accepted this suggestion and proposal is to me suggestive of an admission that their Ba’athist regime ally actually possesses chemical weapons, despite the fact that Assad’s regime attempted, right up to the last minute, to deny that they owned the things in the first place, and to deny the atrocious use of them against their own people.

This new diplomatic solution raises many challenges, not least those of verification and of trust in a totalitarian regime not known for acting in good faith, as well as the fact that they may try to conceal some of the chemical weapons stockpile. It does not, of course, solve the problem of war crimes which, clearly, have already been committed with impunity by both sides. Nor does it ensure a return to Geneva II or a political settlement in which Assad and his family depart and a new democratically elected government emerges. President Obama has made it clear that if this latest proposal fails he reserves the right to use the US military to act surgically and appropriately to deter future use of gas against civilians and also, of course, against troops in conflict everywhere, which would bring back the horrors and memories of the First World War.

Lastly, I deplore the cynical use to date by Russia and China of the UN Security Council in preventing a politically imposed solution to this terrible crisis.