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View From Paris

Apr 14, 2018
Originally published on April 17, 2018 5:29 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

France and Britain, of course, joined the U.S. overnight in launching those airstrikes against chemical weapons stockpiles. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has consistently said the use of chemical weapons is a red line to him and if Syrian President Assad - and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has crossed it. That action came last night even though a chemical weapons verification mission was to begin today. Eleanor Beardsley is in Paris. Eleanor, thanks very much for being with us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: It's good to be here, Scott.

SIMON: The French say that they have proof enough to launch attacks last night, right?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, absolutely. President Macron said this week on television he had no doubt that chemical weapons were used. And today, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, spoke, and he said they have undeniable proof of chemical weapons use from French intelligence sources on the ground, from independent medical sources, as well as photos and satellite images. And in fact, he says it's all published. It's on the Internet under the French presidency's website so you can see it. And he said that the mission starting work today is really late. He said the Russians repeatedly vetoed the use of another monitoring group that had confirmed the use of chemical weapons last year, Scott. They were very effective. They were already, you know, nearly on the ground, and they could have quickly gone in. The Russians continuously vetoed that.

SIMON: Can you tell from Paris do the French anticipate more airstrikes?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Foreign Minister Le Drian said for the moment this is it. They've achieved their goal, hitting weapons, you know, chemical weapons depots and a research facility. He says he thinks they've pretty much knocked out nearly all of the Syrian regime's capacity to use chemical weapons. But he added this when he spoke on television this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He says a second goal of the strikes was to show Assad that when you cross the red line - when you cross red lines, there are immediate consequences. We want to make sure he does not use chemical weapons against his people again. He said while the goals achieved last night were good, he said Assad and his allies better heed this warning. And he said if Assad ever tries it again, we will strike again. But he added that he thinks Assad has understood the lesson.

SIMON: Let me ask about the Russian position. They insist there's no proof yet of chemical weapons. In fact, a Russian general yesterday, I believe, said that British intelligence had somehow faked the attack in that suburb. Could this attack escalate tensions now between the U.S., Britain, France and Russia?

BEARDSLEY: Well, surely it is not going to calm things, Scott. It will escalate tensions, but when the French defense minister spoke and the Americans and British have also said this, the strike was very targeted. They stayed within their goals, which was to take out illegal chemical weapons. In no way was it meant to escalate the situation or change the war situation on the ground. In fact, Macron said this week the strikes were necessary to fight against what he sees as a normalization of the use of chemical weapons. It cannot be a normal thing. Macron has made it clear from the beginning exactly where he stands on this.

Just after being elected, he said that that was a red line for him, chemical weapons use, and that he would take measures if Assad crossed that red line. And in fact, Scott, he said this in public standing next to Vladimir Putin who was visiting France last May. Macron's actually been working to keep Putin in the loop. Putin has been increasingly isolated. Macron's been talking to him through this crisis. And analysts say Putin doesn't really want to risk ruining the friendship - a tense friendship - that he has with Macron.

SIMON: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, thanks so much.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Scott Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.