The next step is for the international community to “hold Russian, Iranian and Turkish feet to the fire”by Liam Kelly / April 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Andrew Mitchell sits down at his desk in front of a poster which reads: “Join the anti-poverty movement: Educate girls.” On the opposite wall sits a giant framed map of Africa.
We meet in his parliamentary office, overlooking a sun-drenched Palace of Westminster, the day after the American missile strike on an airbase controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, in retaliation for its use of chemical weapons on civilians in the rebel-held Idlib province.
The Syrian crisis has long been an issue close to the former International Development secretary’s heart. He is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Friends of Syria, and regularly calls debates in the House of Commons on how to ease the humanitarian crisis which has devastated the country. Last year Mitchell said Russia was “destroying the United Nations and its ability to act” by blocking proposals to end bombings of Aleppo.
Now he says that, though he would not have been “remotely tempted” to vote for Donald Trump were he an American, he is “very pleased that he has stood up for international humanitarian law in such a clear and unequivocal way.” This was in stark contrast with Barack Obama’s decision not to intervene militarily after a similar chemical weapons attack in Ghouta in 2013, which he says “sent a terrible signal to bad people all around the world.”
The next step is for the international community to “hold Russian, Iranian and Turkish feet to the fire to deliver a ceasefire and negotiations on a federal arrangement that can bind Syria together, from the bottom up.”
An end to fighting, allowing “unfettered access for humanitarian agencies,” would be the first step to rebuilding a country shattered by six years of civil war. “It’s extremely important that we secure agreement from Iran, Russia and Turkey to deliver on this ceasefire,” Mitchell adds. “And if they won’t, or can’t do so, then the international community should be looking at imposing no-fly zones, particularly over Idlib.”
When I suggest this could lead to American planes shooting down Russian planes, he says “the Americans should make it crystal clear that they want the ceasefire enforced,” before adding “the Turks shot down a Russian plane for flying into its airspace [in November 2015], and Russia didn’t do it again. But if you have a ceasefire which stops…