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Syria Chemical Weapons

Published on September 6, 2013
Government statement and debate in the National Assembly and Senate – Speeches by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Prime Minister, and M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence (excerpts)

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THE MINISTER – Mr President, ladies and gentlemen deputies,

I’d like to answer two major questions that have been raised during this debate.

SYRIA/CHEMICAL ATTACK/EVIDENCE/ASSAD’S RESPONSIBILITY

The first is the following: are we sure that the 21 August attack was chemical? Yes, it was chemical. The nature of the chemical agent used doesn’t matter much – although, as the President has said, several pieces of information show us and our partners that sarin was used. All the information declassified both by our and our partners’ services strongly demonstrates the use of chemical weapons during the attack, whether they be sarin, yperite, VX or other products like incapacitants for civilian use deployed at high doses, and even cocktails – that’s the most plausible theory. Moreover, nobody is denying it today – not even Bashar al-Assad.

In this regard, let me add that the United Nations’ Sellström mission will say nothing except this, because its mandate is to ascertain the use of chemical weapons – which everyone now acknowledges – and not to say who ordered the attack.

The second question relates to Bashar al-Assad’s responsibility. He is held accountable for eight fundamental, cumulative reasons which I’m going to set out.

The first reason is that Bashar al-Assad’s regime has stockpiled more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and has deployed the necessary delivery systems for their use. It used them, remember, during the events in April in Saraqib and Jobar. We were able to indicate then, thanks to samples then passed on to the United Nations, that it was sarin gas.

Secondly, we have information showing that specific preparations were carried out by the regime in the days preceding 21 August. By specific preparations, I mean steps intended for a chemical intervention.

Thirdly, the reconstruction of the military sequence of events in the 21 August attack, of which the Prime Minister informed your representatives on Monday evening, shows that many shots were fired from districts controlled by the regime towards the districts in the Ghouta, which is in the hands of the opposition.

Fourthly, the operational sequence of events and the attack’s complexity – which, in my opinion, isn’t talked about enough – reveal a perfectly coordinated military operation in line with the tactics of the Syrian defence staff. Before the chemical attack, there was aerial and artillery preparation. In parallel with these military actions, the chemical attack was carried out from 3.00 a.m. onwards. A ground offensive was launched onto the same sites from 6.00 a.m. onwards. Then, still in the same place, there were further intense aerial and artillery bombardments. So there’s a technical consistency there, a large-scale and well-coordinated military action.

Fifthly, the regime subsequently did everything to destroy evidence of its involvement in the operation, either by bombarding the sites already hit or by starting fires to eliminate the traces and cause the gases to evaporate.

Sixth, the scale of the chemical attack is such, and the targets so numerous, that only the regime had the means to engage in such an intervention.

Seventh, neither we nor our partners nor our respective services have ever had the slightest evidence of the Syrian opposition possessing – let alone using – chemical agents, especially in such quantities.

Eighth, the attack launched makes great strategic sense for the Damascus regime, because it was facing an imminent offensive by the opposition in sensitive districts, particularly eastern and western Ghouta, where Damascus’s two airports are situated.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen deputies, it was a large-scale attack which killed hundreds of civilians and was carried out by a regime pursuing its work of terror and of liquidating its people – as Bashar al-Assad said in a recent interview.

I now come to the political-military objectives of the intervention. M. Borloo referred to a tactical concept of no-fly zones and even of a humanitarian corridor. I’d like to say to him that in order to take such an initiative, we would need a huge number of aircraft, long term. This would amount to committing to a war on a long-term basis, without resolving the problem of the use of chemical weapons. It would mark the beginning of a conflict and a long-lasting war. I take the liberty of making this strictly military observation to him. I say this without any aggression, with the sole desire to clarify things for the nation’s elected representatives.

SYRIA/LEBANON

I’d also like to tell him that we share his concern about Lebanon. Today, that country is being hit hard by the consequences of the Syrian crisis, both on the humanitarian and security fronts, as shown by the influx of refugees and the increase in security incidents inside the country and at the borders, in Tripoli and the Bekaa valley. We too are very committed to Lebanon’s sovereignty. We support the policy of dissociation – the term used by President Suleiman – and call on all the political forces to abide by it.

Moreover, I’d like to remind M. Borloo that on 10 July, on France’s initiative, there was a unanimous statement from the Security Council highlighting the imperative of Lebanon’s dissociation and of guaranteeing its political identity. That said, we share the security concern and, as you can well imagine, we’ve already adopted measures to protect our nationals and the French forces in southern Lebanon.

INTERVENTION/OBJECTIVES

As regards the political-military objectives, I’d like to add this: these objectives are perfectly clear and defined.

As the President said, our response has two major strategic objectives, both linked to Bashar al-Assad’s breaking of a taboo: that of using chemical weapons against his people. On the one hand, the objective is to punish the use of chemical agents by Bashar al-Assad against civilians and, on the other hand, to deter him from continuing and restore the ban on the use of weapons of mass destruction. These two objectives must allow us to define a firm, significant, targeted and proportionate response to the violation of an essential norm of international law. They are paramount in the military planning, which is governed by three principles in particular: no ground intervention, retaliatory action against Syrian capabilities and strict collateral damage limitation. The response will halt the escalation of violence the regime is engaged in and thus allow the mentality of impunity to be broken, which is today hindering the essential political solution. The aim of the response I’ve just described is not to overthrow the Syrian regime but to change the political dynamic by ending the mentality of impunity.

A regime convinced of being able to win militarily by using weapons of mass destruction with impunity has no reason to come and negotiate a political exit. Incidentally, in his statement to Le Figaro yesterday, Bashar al-Assad doesn’t say anything different.

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, France decides for itself, because it has military and intelligence capabilities that few countries have. It has specific responsibilities in the international arena, and a certain view of how the international order is respected and of what is called effective multilateralism. It also has duties in terms of national security, which give it the responsibility to intervene. (…)./.

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