Global Norms Demand Response to Chemical Weapons Use

By Charlene Porter
Staff Writer

The United States has a national security stake in defending international prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons. Syria’s apparent “flagrant violation” of that standard demands a response, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.

President Obama is now engaged in deciding what that response will be in ongoing consultations with international partners and leaders of the U.S. Congress. “There will be a response,” Carney said at a White House briefing August 27, expressing the administration’s conviction that a chemical weapons attack did occur in neighborhoods around Damascus August 21.

Carney said the administration is certain that the Syrian government has chemical weapons, has maintained their security through the conflict and has the capability to deliver them.

“The opposition does not,” Carney said. “Suggestions that there is any doubt about who is responsible for this are as preposterous as suggestions that the attack itself didn’t occur,” Carney said.

While the president continues to weigh the possible options, including military options, Carney made clear that the objective of any action would not be a regime change. Any U.S. response will be about upholding the agreement of 189 nations, “representing 98 percent of the world’s people,” that chemical weapons use is a violation of international law.

Carney repeated the longstanding U.S. position that the two-year-old conflict in Syria must be resolved with a political solution, one that does not include President Bashar al-Assad in power.

The spokesman also said it is not expected that the United States would respond with a deployment of ground troops into the region.

President Obama had conversations August 27 on a response to the chemical attacks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The State Department announced over the last several days that Secretary of State John Kerry has been involved in far-reaching consultations with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton and Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby. In the days since the attack, Kerry has also spoken to counterparts in the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, Russia, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons — known in the abbreviated form of CWC — is an almost 20-year-old agreement to which 189 nations have agreed. Syria is not one of them.

The CWC is devoted to the elimination of the entire category of chemical weapons by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by the nations who are party to the treaty. All member states have agreed to enforce the treaty in their jurisdictions, destroy any weapons in their arsenals and destroy the facilities that produced them.

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