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UK giving export licenses to sell Syria nerve gas chemicals ‘smacks of hypocrisy’

Published time: September 03, 2013 12:00

United Nations (UN) arms experts collecting samples as they inspect the site where rockets had fallen in Damascus' eastern Ghouta suburb during an investigation into a suspected chemical weapons strike near the capital. (AFP Photo)

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The UK government’s decision to authorize the export to Syria last year of two chemicals capable of being used to make a nerve agent embodies London’s hypocrisy in the ongoing conflict, Angus Robertson, MP from the Scottish National Party, told RT.

The alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria on August 21 was the basis of a UK parliamentary vote which failed to support British military intervention.

Members of all major parties defied Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday in rejecting action against the Assad regime in Syria. However a British company was granted export licenses for the dual-use substances potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride for six months in 2012 which underscores London’s confused policy towards Syria, Robertson argues.

RT: So what steps do you want to see happen to ensure this matter is investigated further?

Angus Robertson: The British government has given an explanation that an export license was granted for the export of chemicals which were supposedly bound for a company based in Syria that was involved in manufacturing processes which would require chemicals like that. I’m still concerned, however, because of course the export licenses were issued at a time when the situation in Syria had already deteriorated, and this issue has just been raised in the House of Parliament, which your viewers will be able to see behind me, during defense questions, where defense ministers had to explain why it was that the UK would even consider granting an export license.

There’s also a parallel development to this, which is that ministers are having to acknowledge that the UK trained senior Assad military officers in the UK over a number of years. Now, both of these cases show, to me, and utter inconsistency on the basis of decisions that have been taken here in London. I think it’s quite right here to draw attention to the appalling record of the Assad government, however, UK government decisions over the years show that they have been willing to work with that government. I think that frankly smacks of hypocrisy.

A woman mourning over a body wrapped in shrouds laid out in a line on the ground with other victims which Syrian rebels claim were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, 2013. (AFP Photo / Daya Al-Deen)

RT: We've just seen a statement which the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation sent us. They say the recipient proved the chemicals were for civilian use - and licenses were revoked when sanctions hit Syria. So how would you comment on that?

AR: We comment on the fact that the UK rescinded the export licenses when the European Union told the UK to do it. So thank goodness for the European Union intervening. Frankly, the problem is that the UK was prepared to grant an export license in the first place. Of course the UK has form in this sort of thing, being prepared to sell military hardware and other things that can be used for the production of weapons and in this case, chemicals which could in circumstances be used to produce chemical weapons. And we do have to ask ourselves why, with a situation having already deteriorated so badly, was even prepared to grant an export license where these chemicals do have the potential [for] dual use; yes, for manufacturing purposes, but also for the production of chemical weapons.

RT: We don't know who actually received these chemicals. Could the Syrian rebels have got hold of them and used them to make the sarin gas themselves?

AR: Goodness me, it is impossible to tell from this distance but I think in this particular case, I think the UK government has confirmed the circumstances in which the export license was issued, but have also said that the export itself did not take place. So the chemicals themselves did not make their way to Syria, that is, at least what we’re being told and I have no reason to doubt that. I think it is important to get to the bottom of this, that’s why these questions are being asked, and their being asked from good people in different political parties. My party, for what it’s worth, is one of those reflecting the great majority of opinion, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK who are deeply skeptical about involving ourselves in the dreadful situation on the ground in Syria and exacerbating the situation. I think we are very focused on wanting to ensure that there should be an initiative that brings all of the belligerents to the negotiating table, and in this regard it really is down to all countries that are able to exercise influence on the differences sides in the conflict and of course, the United States and the UK are on that list, but so is Russia and so is Iran. So I would use this opportunity on Russia Today [RT] to appeal to all countries that have influence to focus on trying to move things forward on a diplomatic and agreed basis and also work even harder to try and ameliorate the awful humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and in the neighboring countries for so many of the literally hundreds of thousands of displaced people who’ve had to leave this terrible war.