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Friday, August 30, 2013

In Britain, Hours Of Debate On Syria

The British parliament was called back from summer recess yesterday to hear Prime Minister David Cameron make his case for military strikes in Syria.

You may have heard snippets of the debate, but with Congress still on recess in the U.S., Here & Now thought it would be worthwhile to hear more of the questions raised in Britain.

For over eight hours, Cameron delivered a speech and took questions, called interventions.

Ultimately, the proposal for military action in Syria was voted down, 285 to 272. Cameron said that while he still believed Britain should take action against Assad’s regine, he would respect the will of parliament, which was “reflecting the views of the British people.”

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR, this is HERE & NOW. I'm Robin Young with Jeremy Hobson and we have been following an extraordinary news day. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke in the last hour laying out the Obama Administration case for action against Syria. We are awaiting the words of President Obama. He spoke in behind closed doors and we are hearing him say from Tweets from behind closed doors that there will be no boots on the ground approach.

But while we wait, you've no doubt heard that the British Parliament was called back from summer recess yesterday to hear Prime Minister Cameron make his case for military strikes against Syria. You might've heard snippets of that debate, but with Congress still on recess here in the U.S., we think it's worthwhile to hear more of the questions raised in Britain. The session began with an acknowledgment from Mr. Cameron of resistance to his proposal. He was once a member of parliament who would listen to then Prime Minister Tony Blair make the case for war in Iraq.

(SOUNDBITE OF PARLIAMENTARY SESSION)

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: I remember in 2003, I was sitting there two rows from the back on the opposition benches. It was just after my son had been born and he was not well, but I was determined to be here. I wanted to listen to the man standing right here and believe everything that he told me. We're not here to debate those issues today, but one thing is indisputable. The well of public opinion was well and truly poisoned by the Iraq episode. And we need to understand the public's skepticism.

I give way to the right (unintelligible).

YOUNG: For over an extraordinary five hours, the prime minister delivered a speech and took questions. They're called interventions. We've strung some together here.

(SOUNDBITE OF PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS)

PARLIAMENT MEMBER #1: Can I ask him, why is it that our allies in the Middle East like Saudi, Maritz, Qatar, Kuwait and others cannot take military action? Why does it fall on us yet again?

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON: Yeah, my honorable friend makes a good point, and let's be clear, no decision about military action has been taken. It would require another vote of this House. But if we wanted to see action that was purely about deterring and degrading future chemical weapon use by Syria, and that is the only basis on which I would support any action, then you need countries that have the capabilities to do that, of which the United States and the United Kingdom are too. And there are very few other countries that will do that. I'll take one from my honorable friend here and then one from the honorable gentleman there.

PARLIAMENT MEMBER #2: On the matter of international law, did not the world leaders and the UN in 2005 sign off unanimously to the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, which means that if countries default in their responsibility to defend their own citizens, then the International Community has a responsibility as a whole to defend those citizens? Syria has defaulted on its responsibility to protect its own citizens. Surely now the International Community and ourselves do have a responsibility to undertake what we agreed to do just as recently as 2005.

CAMERON: My honorable friend makes a very important point and it relates to what happened in Kosovo and elsewhere. But let me be clear about what we're talking about today. Yes, it is that doctrine but it's also about chemical weapons. It's about a treaty the whole world agreed to almost 100 years ago after the horrors of the First World War. And the question before us is, is Britain a country that wants to uphold that international taboo against the use of chemical weapons? And my argument is, yes, it should be that sort of country. Let me take an intervention from the democratic in this party.

PARLIAMENT MEMBER #3: (Unintelligible) and I know there are many people in this House who do not believe that this debate today is a prelude to (unintelligible) which will eventually see us involved in Syria. But could you explain to us that if as the briefing says today, there have already been 14 instances of use of chemical weapons, 100,000 people dead, 1.2 million people displaced. Why is it only nye that the prime minister thinks this is the time for greater intervention?

CAMERON: I think the point for considering this tougher approach is that we know there are the 14 uses of chemical weapons on a smaller scale - at least 14. And now we have this much larger use. And this does seem to me, and to President Obama, and to President (unintelligible) and to many others, an appropriate moment to ask whether it is time to do something to stand up for the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons. You can't, on the one hand, accuse me of rushing into something but on the other hand say, why have you waited for 14 chemical weapons attacks before you do something?

Let me take the right old lady and then the honorable gentleman.

PARLIAMENT MEMBER #4: ...is grateful to the prime minister. What has convinced him? Where is the evidence that an action by the International Community would seize the use of chemical weapons within Syria? A country where the (unintelligible) have accepted 100,000 dead, millions of refugees and the continuing action which is destroying, totally, that country. Where is the evidence that convinces him that the external world can prevent this?

CAMERON: Honorable lady makes an extremely serious point. And as I've just said, in the end there is no 100 percent certainty about who is responsible. You have to make a judgment. There is also no 100 percent certainty about what path of action might succeed or fail. But let me say this to the honorable lady. I think we can be as certain as possible that when we have a regime that has used chemical weapons on 14 occasions, that is most likely responsible for this large-scale attack, that if nothing is done, it will conclude that it can use these weapons again and again on a larger scale and with impunity. I hereby acknowledge you.

#4: Mr. Speaker, the prime minister - speaker, the prime minister is making a very possible and heartfelt speech. Could he explain to the house why he thinks that President Assad did this? There seems to be no logic for this chemical attack, and that is what's worrying some people.

PARLIAMENT MEMBER #5: Hear, hear.

CAMERON: I think if he reads the - it's a very good question. If he reads the conclusions, this is where they find the greatest difficulty of ascribing motives. Now, lots of motives have been ascribed. For my part, I think the most likely possibility is that he has been testing the boundaries. Fourteen uses and no response, at least 14 uses, and he wants to know whether the world will respond to the use of these weapons, which actually I suspect tragically and repulsively are proving quite effective on the battlefield. But in the end, we can't know the mind of this brutal dictator. All we can do is make a judgment about whether it is better to act...

YOUNG: That is Britain's Prime Minister Cameron, depending his proposal for military action to Syria. Here is the President of the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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