Transcript: Al-Jazeera Arabic interview with Green Cross on Syria chemical weapons crisis
The following is the English transcript of the 25 March 2013 interview conducted by Al-Jazeera TV Arabic with Dr Paul Walker, Director of Green Cross International’s Environmental Security and Sustainability programme, on reported chemical weapons use in Syria.
Joining us from Washington is Paul Walker, WMD and chemical weapons expert with Green Cross International. Mr. Walker, how can we confirm or deny the use of chemical weapons in the conflict taking place in Syria?
Walker: The first thing we have to do is really get a United Nations inspection team on the ground. There is no way we can confirm or deny the use of these weapons vis-à-vis allegations in recent weeks and months, without getting a thorough, expert multinational United Nations inspection team on the ground, and conducted at the sites where the allegations have been made and also at the clinics and hospitals and morgues where there are victims and autopsies have been done. Only with an on-site inspection team will we be able to confirm or deny; and even then, there will be some questions. But, I think an on-site United Nations inspection, as proposed, is the only solution.
While awaiting this team, is it possible to use eyewitness accounts of doctors who have treated cases said to be affected by these weapons – they describe a material which resembles phosphorous which injures the nervous system and impairs the affected person’s balance or consciousness. Are these indicators which may lead, at least in the short term, to say some sort of chemical material was used?
I think what we do know is that some sort of chemical was used. It’s very clear from the reports from the victims, the fact that civilians or some groups who were impacted by some sort of chemical. Whether this was a chemical weapon is a major question still left unanswered. If it’s phosphorous, phosphorous is a dual-use chemical – it has wide industrial uses but also is a precursor of nerve agents so it can be an indicator of the use of nerve agents. But it can also be an indicator that a weapon was used potentially as a smoke agent or as an illumination device or even as an incendiary device which is actually against humanitarian law but is not part of the Chemical Weapons Convention, so that’s really why we need on-site weapons inspectors who can take chemical measurements. We need to see the results from the victims too. For an effective, full-blown nerve agent like that, delivered by a SCUD missile, as alleged by several reports, I think there probably would have been many more dead and they would have died more quickly from what I’ve seen so far, so I think it’s extremely difficult to really draw any conclusions at this point whether it was chemical weapons or not.
Mr. Walker, on this issue, President Obama said if it is proved that chemical weapons were used in the current conflict in Syria, it would be a game-changer; what would be Washington’s position if that was proven?
Walker: Well, President Obama has clearly stated that the use of chemical weapons was a “red-line.” A red-line means it would clearly involve the West and I think NATO, with Middle Eastern allies, certainly Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others would not allow the use, America would not allow the use of chemical weapons at all. It’s against the law, against the Chemical Weapons Convention, it’s against the Geneva Convention which Syria has signed. So I think what this will do is it will escalate the war and you will see foreign intervention quite quickly.
Thank you very much, Mr. Paul Walker, WMD and chemical weapons expert with Green Cross International, for joining us from Washington.