Chem­i­cal at­tacks test lead­ers’ red lines

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - AFP

PARIS: Barack Obama fa­mously had one and Don­ald Trump and Em­manuel Macron clearly set out their own. But their “red lines” over the use of chem­i­cal weapons in the Syria con­flict are now be­ing tested.

France this week said “all in­di­ca­tions” sug­gested the Syr­ian regime was us­ing chlo­rine weapons against rebel forces.

US am­bas­sador to the UN Nikki Ha­ley said there was “ob­vi­ous ev­i­dence from dozens of vic­tims” of breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties to cor­rob­o­rate chlo­rine at­tacks in rebel-held East­ern Ghouta and Idlib prov­ince.

Thus far, the Da­m­as­cus regime has gone un­pun­ished mil­i­tar­ily for its lat­est sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks.

An­a­lysts say the regime may be see­ing how far it can go.

“The at­tacks are part of an ef­fort to test whether Pres­i­dent Trump will en­force the red line on chem­i­cal weapons he put in place last year,” said David Adesnik, re­search di­rec­tor of the Foun­da­tion for De­fence of Democ­ra­cies.

Mr Obama was the first to set out his red line, in 2012, when he warned Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar alAs­sad that the use, or even the move­ment, of chem­i­cal weapons would trig­ger US mil­i­tary reprisals. But af­ter a sarin at­tack the fol­low­ing year, which killed nearly 1500 civil­ians in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs, ac­cord­ing to US in­tel­li­gence, Mr Obama opted out of mil­i­tary reprisals and in­stead se­cured an agree­ment along with Rus­sia to dis­man­tle the Syr­ian chem­i­cal arse­nal.

Then last April, a sarin at­tack in Khan Sheikhoun, in which 88 peo­ple died, caused an in­ter­na­tional out­cry and led Mr Trump to or­der strikes on a Syr­ian air base.

A month later, af­ter be­ing elec- ted French Pres­i­dent, Mr Macron drew a “very clear red line” on the is­sue, promis­ing “re­tal­i­a­tion and an im­me­di­ate re­sponse from France” if chem­i­cal weapons were used. Paris and Wash­ing­ton agreed they were ready to re­spond in a co-or­di­nated man­ner.

“Macron’s red line has been crossed to the let­ter,” said Bruno Ter­trais, deputy di­rec­tor of the Foun­da­tion for Strate­gic Re­search in Paris.

“When he drew his red line, it’s pos­si­ble he had in mind a mas­sive at­tack, like the very lethal at­tacks in Ghouta or Khan Sheikhoun, con­ducted by ded­i­cated agents us­ing sarin.”

In­stead, France last month launched a “part­ner­ship against im­punity” agreed by two dozen coun­tries to en­sure that per­pe­tra­tors of chem­i­cal at­tacks in Syria are held ac­count­able and said it would blacklist com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als it sus­pects of links to Syria’s al­leged chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram.

For the US, “as the Pres­i­dent showed last April, he’s will­ing to look at all op­tions”, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said.

Like Paris, Wash­ing­ton has been fo­cus­ing its at­ten­tion on the po­lit­i­cal process while call­ing on Rus­sia to de­ter the As­sad regime from us­ing chem­i­cal weapons.

Fran­cois Heis­bourg, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies in Lon­don, said: “Amer­i­cans do not con­sider chlo­rine to re­ally be a chem­i­cal weapon. So they avoid the need to re­act.’’

He said Mr Macron had “taken a risk” with his red line.

“If we say and re­peat that there are chem­i­cal at­tacks, we build an obli­ga­tion to re­act, ” he said. “We are not far away from that.”

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