U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power Presses For Strikes On Syria

As the White House begins a major public and private effort to rally support for U.S. military action in Syria, Steve Inskeep talks to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She is one of the architects of the White House policy on Syria.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're joined next by one of the advocates of using military force in Syria. Samantha Power is the new American ambassador to the United Nations. She joins us from New York during this week when Congress will debate a possible strike on Syria. Ambassador, welcome to the program.

AMBASSADOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let me ask a central question for you, because you're representing the U.S. at the United Nations, which has not authorized a strike. Would an American strike on Syria be legal?

POWER: If we take military action in this context, it'll be a legitimate, necessary and proportionate response to this large-scale and indiscriminate use of chemical weapons by the regime. Nobody has tried harder than this administration to work through the Security Council over two and a half years. As you're well aware of, of course, even modest humanitarian and political measures have been rejected by Russia.

In New York we've had three resolutions put forward, all of which have been vetoed by Russia. And on chemical weapons, specifically and perhaps most heartbreakingly, even on the day of August 21, when those ghastly images were broadcast all around the world, we couldn't even get a press release out of the Security Council condemning generically use of chemical weapons. So...

INSKEEP: So let me just make sure that I'm clear on this. You're saying that something needs to be done and it is time to go outside the legal system, outside the legal framework. You believe it is right to do something that is just simply not legal.

POWER: In the cases of - we've seen in the past, there are times when there is a patron like Syria backed by Russia. We saw this in Kosovo as well, where it was just structurally impossible to get meaningful international action through the Security Council. And yet, in this case, you have the grave breach of such a critical international norm in terms of the ban on chemical weapons use, it is very important that the international community act so as to prevent further use.

INSKEEP: Why do you think it is, Ambassador, that while many countries - other than Russia - have condemned the use of chemical weapons, there are not many countries calling for military action?

POWER: Well, I think countries are right to bring a healthy skepticism about the use of military force. I think the American people are right to bring that skepticism. It's a very important check on any tendency that one might have toward going to military force too quickly. And believe me, President Obama, over the course of the last two and a half years, has brought that same skepticism.

Indeed, that is why we have pursued so many measures, indeed in specific relation to CW, in advance of actually moving forward in the direction he has now embarked upon - namely sending U.N. inspectors to Syria in the hopes that their presence might deter further attacks. Or indeed that they might be able to gather evidence that the whole international community could agree upon and then come up with some kind of joint action that could be taken through the Security Council.

Other countries have brought forward the possibility of an International Criminal Court referral. And the Russians have said nyet to that as well. Again, no meaningful enforcement action has been possible through the Security Council. We've employed the force of the stigma associated with this norm and messaged directly to the Syrian regime, gotten the Russians to message direct to the Syrian regime. I believe Iran has messaged directly about how important it is not to use chemical weapons.

Again, these verbal condemnations, this verbal suasion, the steps that we might have taken through the Security Council - none of these steps of gotten the attention of the Assad regime sufficient to have him put this weapon away and put it back where it belongs, which is off the battlefield.

INSKEEP: Just so that I'm clear, are you saying that Iran has been helpful here - that Iran has conveyed a message that this is wrong?

POWER: What I'm saying is that over the course of a year, over the last year, initially when we received - when we assessed that he was on the verge of using, we - this is around the time where President Obama spoke out publicly - the Secretary-General and others went to Syria directly, went to Iran to go to Syria. The Russians went to Syria. Everybody was signaling: Do not use this weapon. And again, it had a very modest effect.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask one other question, Ambassador. We're hearing elsewhere in the program from Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. He's a member of the House leadership. He's put out a statement saying this conflict is a civil war, a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and a religious war. And he says we should avoid being drawn into this conflict.

Very briefly, what's he missing?

POWER: The stakes, the human and national security stakes of chemical weapons use. President Obama does not want to get involved in this conflict. He wants to degrade Assad's capability of using this weapon and affect his cost/benefit calculus because he will use again and again and again, and it's only a matter of time before these weapons will fall into the hands of non-state actors - again, imperiling some of our closest allies in the region, but also in the long term hurting the United States.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, thanks very much.

POWER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.