07/04/2017 Newsnight


The latest on the US missile strike against Syria and the lorry attack in Stockholm, with Evan Davis.

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The US takes a stand against chemical weapons...


And the American president adopts a different tone.


God bless America and the entire world.


Sounds like a man engaging with the rest of us.


Wasn't he meant to be the America-First president, the one


willing to do deals with Russia and Assad?


The Syrian government thinks America was duped.


I think they fall to the trick, and they have changed


unnecessarily what they thought about Syria.


We'll ask what this means for Syria, the US and the


And, while the world was reacting to that, a reminder of


fraught times - another truck atrocity, this time in the Swedish


I could actually see bodies lying on the street, and


I could see the police covering a body with an orange blanket.


Over three days, a huge shift in US policy to Syria.


A new engagement with the world and, it seems, a fresh approach


to foreign policy that sees America willing to bomb again.


On one account, Trump means business, is willing to act


fast and decisively, and is telling not just


Syria, but Russia, Iran and North Korea to watch out.


On this account, what Trump has done has exposed


the vacillation of President Obama, and despots of the world will now


In the UN Security Council, Nikki Haly, the US


When the international community consistently fails in its duty


to act collectively, there are times when states are


The indiscriminate use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians


The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used.


It is in our vital national security interests to prevent the spread


Too soon to call it a Trump doctrine, but there's no doubt,


the launch of 59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles in the early hours


of our morning suddenly made the world feel like a more familiar


The US took a forceful stance, Russia and Iran


France and Germany supported it too, as did Israel.


Or was this a Trump just being capricious and inconsistent?


Let's start by talking to the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen.


We should start on Syria, Jeremy. How has this changed the course of


the Serbian war? We don't know if it does yet. It depends if it is a


one-off or it is part of a thought out US strategy, a new strategy, one


that has a clear idea of what victory looks like, a clear idea of


how they get there. That might change things. More attacks might


change things as well, if the Americans choose to use more force.


Actually changing the course of this terrible conflict, I think, will


take more than simply one attack. Let's talk about Syria. We will hear


from the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister shortly. What has been


going on there? It would obviously be very bad for America if it


emerged that they had been duped and it wasn't the Syrians who have


released sarin gas. What would be the theories as to why Syria might


be engaging in chemical warfare this week? The regime absolutely denies


they had anything to do with it, or ever had anything to do with


chemical weapons. That's the first thing. There's one school of thought


that says Assad would have been insane to use chemical weapons at


this point. With his Russian friends, he has scored important


victories, turned the tide of war in his favour, with Aleppo falling at


the end of last year, a lot of bombing going on in Idlib province,


a rebel holdout, in the last couple of months, and particularly in the


last few weeks by the Russians, so why would he do it? Why would he


want to get Trump, who was talking about him as part of the solution to


Islamic State, and then bombing him? That is one thing. Another school of


thought is that Assad and his people knew all of that but they got away


with using chemical weapons in 2013. I say here that they deny they get.


They got away with it in 2013, really wanted to show all those who


oppose them that they would grind them into the dirt and so, as well


as conventional weapons, they thought, what the hell, we have


chemical weapons left over, we'll use them too. Will speak to the


Deputy Foreign Minister shortly. It does seem like a hugely


different Donald Trump to the one that was against bombing


of Syria back in 2013, and who campaigned against US


involvement in foreign wars. Many thought he could end up taking


the US into isolation and yielding much of the world


to the influence of President Putin. David Grossman considers how


significant a shift it is. The eagle in the presidential seal


carries both an olive branch and a clutch of arrows, the power to make


peace or wage war. Before being elected, Donald Trump repeatedly


warned America's real enemy was not the Assad Government but Islamist


terrorism. I don't like Assad at all, but he is carrying the Luke


killing Isis. -- but he is killing ices. He said very bad things would


happen if America got involved. That view has clearly changed. Tonight, I


ordered targeted military strikes on the airfield from which the chemical


attack was launched. Trump has consistently emphasised that the


priority in Syria should be fighting ices and even imply that one point


during the campaign that Assad could be a partner in fighting ices. He


said that Russia and Assad are fighting ices, so shouldn't we as


well? -- fighting IS. The world is now trying to work out what our


Trump 's ambitions and triggers in the region and a purpose for


American involvement. The problems in this attack is limited to the


specific objective of punishing and deterring Assad from using chemical


weapons in the future. I think it will be effective for that limited


objective. But of course, it doesn't deal with the more fundamental


problem that the Assad Government is committing war crimes every day.


TRANSLATION: This is what the damage on the ground look like, according


to Russian television. TRANSLATION: This is an act of aggression does


that reminds me of 2003 when the US and Britain invaded Iraq without the


agreement of the UN Security Council, a major violation of


international law. This of the photograph the White House released


the president and his team the moment after the missiles it. There


are obvious echoes with his predecessor and his advisers


overseeing the operation to kill Osama bin London. President Trump's


controversial chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is literally taking a


back-seat. Hopefully Trump is starting to listen to people around


him. Steve Bannon has been removed, and many were concerned about him.


He has been removed from the National Security Council. I don't


expect that everything Trump does in foreign policy will be a dumpster


fire. I do think we are seeing a process of some normalisation of the


administration is the people around him start getting their foot in.


Last night's air strike has rather overshadowed another apparent


foreign policy refinement from the Trump administrations an his


attitude towards China. It is a tremendous honour for me and my


representatives... Today, he was posting president Xi Jin Ping. He


once described China as an enemy that was raping the American


economy. Yellow Mikey has backed away from most of the controversial


things he said before taking office, questioning the value of Nato, and


US allies, questioning the US one China policy. -- he has backed away.


He has proved to be much more moderate than candidate Trump. It


reflects the responsibilities of office, in part, and that most of


his foreign policy team are very mainstream. In any presidency, there


are always two processes going on in parallel. The man shakes the offers,


and the office shapes the man. Let's get the Syrian


point of view now. Just for context, it's worth noting


that quite apart from the sarin gas attack this week,


and the ones in 2013, there have been chlorine gas attacks


on more frequent occasions. Last year, the Organisation


for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,


the OPCW, jointly with the UN, did find that the Syrian government


was responsible for at least three of those, while there


was insufficient evidence That may or may not be relevant


to the assessment that the Syrian government was responsible


for the latest sarin attack. Well, a little earlier


I spoke to Faisal Mekdad, I asked him what he thought had


happened in Idlib this week. What happened is that a fabricated


incident of the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun was made,


and at the end of the game, the United States has come


at the request of terrorist groups in Syria and bombarded


a very important airport from which our planes go and attack


Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra What happened to ignite sarin gas


in Khan Sheikhoun this week? I think the terrorist groups have


hidden these materials, and we have reported this


to the United Nations Security Council, and to the Organisation


on the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, some time ago,


and told them the terrorists groups, including Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra,


are bringing in chemical materials from Turkey and Iraq in order to use


them in the war against Syria. The real story has not been yet


confirmed because the whole area is under the control


of a terrorist group. Is it your contention, Mr Mekdad,


that the Syrian government has not used sarin gas or chlorine gas


at any point in the In my capacity, as the chairman


of the Syrian National Committee, on the implementation


of our responsibility towards the OPC, the Organisation


on Chemical Weapons, we have shipped all the materials


on British, on French, on Finnish, on American ships, and we send them


to be burned in those We have no whatsoever


any chemical weapons, and the Syrian army has not


and will never use them If we have to say what are the gains


of the Syrian government between using traditional weapons,


or using these chemicals, the traditional weapons


would kill more terrorists So the Syrian army has no interest,


no gains as, I mean, for the use Why has the Organisation


for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in its joint


investigative mechanism with the United Nations found


that the Syrian government was responsible for chlorine attacks


on various occasions, I read the report very carefully,


and they said that they were not able to go to those areas


because they are under the control of terrorist groups,


and they said that there is a possibility that the Syrian


Government may have used chlorine in these attacks,


but there was no confirmation whatsoever of these incidents


in the report given to the Security Mr Mekdad, can you understand why


most of the world simply doesn't believe a word


that the Syrian government says? We have seen the indiscriminate


behaviour in terms of attacking civilians that has been exhibited


in eastern Aleppo, just to take one example, and simply,


your government doesn't have a reputation that


anyone will stand by, and when you say that you're not


behind chlorine gas attacks that other people say you are,


or this latest attack this week. When we were liberating eastern


Aleppo from the terrorist groups, the entire international community


was mobilised against Syria. Recently, in attacks carried out


by the same terrorist groups who occupied eastern Aleppo


against Damascus, the capital of Syria, not a single


incident was reported. During these attacks,


many Syrian civilians, including children and women


in the capital of Syria were killed as well,


but the international community is standing with us strong,


with the mobilisation of the international media,


against the Syrian Government, with the support of certain


governments like those What is your reaction going to be,


to the American attack last night? This is an aggression


against a sovereign country. acting within the charter,


and the role of the Security Council to stop such attacks


against sovereign country. Only a week ago, the position


of the American Government, the Trump administration,


well, it was that Assad is a matter for the Syrian people,


not for the American Government, and effectively this week has seen


a huge change in the approach This attack was fabricated,


fabricated to change the position of the United States,


of the Trump administration, against Syria, and I think


the administration in Washington and other countries were subject


to a misleading information that came to them, or have created such


a thing to change these policies. The Americans are just a victim


here, they have just been a bit dim and fallen for a trick against them,


it's not that they have the best intelligence services


and the biggest security administration in the world,


it's just they are suckers, basically, they've fallen


for a trick. I think they have fall to the trick,


and they have changed unnecessarily In fact, their statements two weeks'


ago or ten days ago contradict with what they have done today


morning, in attacking Syrians and killing innocent children


and women around Shayrat airport. Do you ever stand back and think


there are a lot of people in Syria Your country has fallen


apart under him. It's in the grip of


a horrendous Civil War. Do you ever think, would it not just


be helpful if this guy stood out of the way or said he was willing


to stand out of the way if there was a peace process, do


you never look at what is happening to Syria, and think "My goodness,


we need to do something here, rather than just stand and fight


and bomb our own people"? After the election of


President Trump, and even in the UK, in France,


people, I mean a lot of people hate his election,


a lot of people hate President A lot of people hate Prime Minister,


the Prime Minister in the UK, but they have never resorted


to the use of weapons to express themselves


as what happened in Syria. In Syria we have a lot of people


who support policies His role in combatting terrorism,


his role in bringing peace back into Syria,


so President Assad was elected, He was not elected in the same way


as the British Government No, what you are saying


is ridiculous because you admit elections in the UK,


but you don't elect, Tens of thousands of people have


gone to the embassy of Syria, in Lebanon to elect


President Bashar al-Assad. He is more legitimate than many


of the European leaders you have, but these are not the questions


to be asked. Faisal Mekdad, thank


you for giving us your time. Between 2013 and 2015,


he was special adviser Good evening to you. Do you welcome


what President Trump did last night. Within limit, I think it is the


right thing to do, to respond and make clear that the United States is


not going to allow the regime to use chemical weapons, and I think


failing to act in some way, would send a message to Assad who was


clearly testing President Trump, go right ahead, use chemical weapons as


much as you like, so I think there was a case for it and I am glad we


did it, but I am also concerned about the consequences and the risk


of slippery slope and this administration is going to have to


be really disciplined in ensure that this doesn't lead us into conflict


in Syria, and discipline is not exactly been the hallmark of this


administration. A lot of people say this is a huge shift, in the course


of a week, from saying Assad is sort of Syria's problem, to getting


pulled in as it is. Do you see this as a major shift, a strategic


change, or do you see this as a rush of blood to the head in a one off?


Well, it is definitely a head spinning change, I mean, I don't


think it's a change in the overall strategy but just? Terms of the


contrast with Donald Trump's position on this issue, for six


year, it is indeed 180 degrees, he has all along from the start of the


conflict been opposed to American intervention, he said Obama's red


line was dumb to have issued and was against enfor forcing it at the


time. You can't just say that well, it all changed because there was a


chemical weapon attack, the chemical weapon attack in 2013 was with the


same sort of substance and it killed about 15 times as many people. So in


that case he was against it, now suddenly this week, he is for it,


only days after administration representatives had signalled they


were OK with Assad staying in power. So in that sense... Are you feeling


more positive, sorry to interrupt, are you feeling more positive about


President Trump. He has done what I suspect President Obama wishes he


has done, back if 2013, hasn't he? Well, I don't know if President


Obama wishes he has done that, he is on the record recently as saying he


thought it came out better than it would have had, and the logic there


is, that is my caution about feeling so good about what happened now,


nobody, we are 12 hours or whatever after the strikes, critics or people


who are concerned about where it leads never thought that the bad


things would happen in 12 hours and President Obama didn't think that


then, the concern is that you feel good about an initial set of


strikes, but then down the road, you know, the others get a vote to. What


does Assad do now and what does Putin do now? I am concerned, even


though I think it was the right thing for the United States to


respond, there will be a reaction from the other side, and I think it


won't be long before Assad is challenging Trump again, maybe not


with chemical weapons but possibly bombing the same parts of Idlib with


barrel bombs and other munitions and killing lots of people and saying,


sorry, you really haven't changed the course of war.


And that will give a dilemma. Do you think the foreign policy is


normalising, under Donald Trump? I wonder whether that is because there


is something of a kind of, not a battle, but there are different


advisers telling him different things and he seems to be leaning


towards, if you like, the more conventional foreign policy add


video -- adviser, is that is what is going on. That is what is going on.


If you set aside the must irand the tweets and the dust that gets kicked


up by what this President sometimes says when you look at major policy


on major strategic issues they are coming out in a fairly convention


Way, the style is far from conventional, you have to


acknowledge that, in contrast to campaign positions, he said he would


dismantle the Iran nuclear deal. It turns out he doesn't want do that.


He questioned a China policy as the transition and he is meeting with


the President of China and sticking with the one China policy, he said


he would move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, then decided it wasn't


such a great idea. He questioned Nato's utility and sent his Vice


President to Nato to say good things about it. You have gone from quite


radical unconventional challenging positions, to much more mainstream


and then as you say the personnel is becoming more mainstream as well.


General Flynn was a radical, he lasted 24 days. He has been replaced


by a much more conventional national security adviser, the Secretary of


Defence, Secretary of State. It is moving in a much more traditional


direction. We still have a President who is impulsive and as we saw


yesterday can change on the dime as if his previous positions had no


meaning whatsoever. Thank you very much indeed.


And again, it was a vehicle that was used as a weapon to cause death.


It really seems that this has become the default method for those


In this case, a beer truck was used, which had been hijacked


There was panic in the streets of Stockholm today, as shoppers


in the centre of the city ran from a suspected terror attack.


A lorry smashed into a department store, before bursting into flames.


The Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven spoke this evening,


to express the nation's shock and anger.


Thoughts, concerns and condolences have reached many of us


And we are grateful for the many warm expressions


We are determined never to let the values that we treasure,


democracy, human rights, and freedom to be


It's been a little confusing this evening, with the suggestion


that the police had picked up a suspect, but followed up


by a claim that they were still looking for the killer.


BBC correspondent Dan Johnson is in Stockholm, and just


before we came on air, he brought us up to date


Well there is a strange atmosphere here tonight. Swedes are


contemplating what happened here earlier and what it may mean for the


future, now, the Prime Minister was clear that he said this had all the


hallmarks of an acts of terrorism, but at the moment we have had


nothing more officially about who may have been involved in this, or


what their motivation may have been. We know the police are questioning


one man and they are urgently seeking another. They have put


images out tonight of somebody they want to talk to, and we know there


are extra police on the streets of this city, and across Sweden, and


there are extra border checks in place too. Now, there are


potentially big questions raised by what has happened here today. It is


a huge challenge for security services, here and everywhere


really. How to keep people safe when they are walking through a city like


this, if someone is prepared to kill, using an every day object,


like a delivery truck, that is what was driven through a bed ran niced


street today at shopper who had to run to save their live, we know that


four people died and 15 are being treated this evening, nine of them


seriously ilk and there will be questions in the future about


exactly what was behind this attack and that will raise issues perhaps


about what extra security measures need to be put in place. Sweden has


a proud history of being an open society, that embraces all, but we


will have to wait for more detail on exactly what could have been behind


this attack before we know the true impact it will have.


Just before coming on air, I spoke to Peter Wolodarski,


broadcaster and editor of Dagens Nyheter, a liberal-leaning


I asked him what the mood was in Sweden tonight.


Tonight people, I think, feel a sense of they want


We also saw that in the afternoon, an outpouring of support to each


other, with transportation, with letting in people


That was also part of the reaction today.


I mean, we have seen events of this kind,


I mean, very close to this, in Berlin, in Paris,


Clearly it looks like a terror incident, and it bears resemblance


to what we've seen in other places in Europe.


We can talk about it before it happens, but when it happens,


it's very dramatic, and you can never be fully prepared for that.


But do you think this will contribute to a sense


of uncertainty about the direction that Sweden is taking?


I think it's too early to draw a conclusion like that.


It will definitely affect our political discourse.


If it affects our way of life, I'm not that sure.


We actually, we had a terror incident in 2010, a suicide bomber


No-one was killed at that time except the suicide bomber,


so it was not the first time that terror strikes in Stockholm.


We know that Donald Trump made some comment about Sweden


and the difficulties it was having, and there was a certain sensitive


I mean, everybody in Sweden noted that he said Sweden was this problem


country that had let too many migrants in.


I just wonder whether those words will be echoing to some extent


around Sweden this evening and people will feel


frustrated to some extent that the President said that.


From some corners in society we will definitely hear that.


What Donald Trump did was to spread false information


about what was happening in Sweden, the day before he was talking.


But we'll see who is behind this, if there is any link to immigration,


or to refugees, or the situation in Syria, who takes responsibility


I think it is too early tonight to draw conclusions


about what we can - who is really behind this.


Does it matter who it is, that is the perpetrator?


We had acts of terror from the right-wing in Sweden as well.


It was not that widely reported throughout the world but we have


Jihadism is a serious problem in Europe, and Sweden


Let's wait and see what this really is.


The perpetrator or the perpetrators might still be at large,


Peter Wolodarski, Thank you very much.


Lovely weekend in store for many of us.


It'll start off a bit chilly on Saturday morning,


but it will warm up very quickly in the sunshine, and as you can see,


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