Reporter: I’d really like to get your first impressions of how you felt when you saw those images from Douma?
Jeremy Corbyn: Horror. Shock. Deep disappointment that this war that’s gone on for so long is still killing people, and killing wholly innocent people in such a brutal and horrendous way.
Q: Did it make you feel that someone should be held responsible for this? The person who’s done that should be held accountable.
JC: Obviously those that have actually done it should be held responsible. Obviously there has to be an inquiry to ascertain exactly who did it. The OPCW has a big responsibility to ensure they can find out who actually did it…
Q: Their role is only to see if there were chemical weapons used, not to find out whodunit.
JC: Of course their job is to ascertain the weapons that were used, what they were, and it’s then up to the UN to investigate who actually committed this atrocity and we did have the 2013 investigation which did result in destruction of chemical weapons; that was the Lavrov- Kerry Agreement which was a really important step forward. I think we need the same spirit between Russia and the United States and I hope that is going to be possible. I do think that some of the proposals that are now being put forward by António Guterres, the general secretary of the UN and the Swedish government could lead us in that direction.
Q: Do you have doubts over whether the Syrian regime was responsible for this?
JC: Look, it’s up to us to obviously condemn; obviously do everything we can to bring about a ceasefire and a political solution. It’s also up to the UN, as the primary actor in the international community, to define who actually did it.
Q: So you do doubt?
JC: No, I want to know who did it.
Q: Emanuel Macron says he has proof that it was the Assad regime.
JC: Well if he has proof then he must bring it forward and I’m sure he will. If there’s proof the regime did it, then the regime must be held responsible. If there’s proof that anybody else did it, they must be held responsible.
Q: Do you think there’s a possibility that this was a fabrication?
JC: I’ve never used that word.
Q: I know you haven’t but I…
JC: I want to know who did it and I think it’s best to know who did it rather than speculate.
Q: Yeah, well there’s been some speculation from the Russian Ambassador saying that potentially it was the White Helmets, for example, who were behind this.
JC: Well, let’s not run into the realms of speculation of that sort.
Q: How do you feel about what he’s saying because that’s a British-backed organisation?
JC: Well, he has made that statement. I have no evidence on that and if they have evidence they’ve got to bring it forward, which is why I would say very strongly to the Russians and the United States: stop blocking each other’s resolutions at the UN, listen to what António Guterres is saying, listen to what non-Security Council members such as Sweden are saying and bring about that urgent investigation. The OPCW are there now which is good…
Q: You know that’s been blocked a number of times by Russia, recently this week. Is it rather pointless calling for that?
JC: No, it’s never pointless. Surely anything that brings about a cessation of the use of chemical weapons, moves us nearer, if not totally to a ceasefire, and a reopening of the Geneva talks has got to be the right way forward. Surely we cannot…
Q: It’s the right way forward but if the [unclear] isn’t there and there’s a strategy… I understand the intention to try to get a peaceful solution but it does seem as if that has been blocked time and again by the Russians.
JC: Well, Security Council members do block each other’s motions. Russia and America have form on this going back ever since the UN was founded…
Q: Russia’s blocking the motion that you’re calling for. Do you think that they are undermining the legitimacy of the UN by doing that?
JC: Well, undermining the legitimacy of the UN? It’s part of the UN Constitution that there is a veto procedure of the five permanent members of the security council, that is there so therefore the legitimacy of the UN still exists but it clearly is and has always been a historic problem for the UN – the ability of the five permanent members to veto resolutions. But, the UN is there; the UN does have a role and go back to 2013, five years ago, there was an agreement between Lavrov and Kerry which did move things along quite a bit. We did then move into the Geneva talks phase. The disaster is that the war has reignited. The danger is that in the horrors of what has happened at Douma, the war ends up escalating/
Q: Part of that agreement was that Syria was going to get rid of its chemical weapons and that doesn’t seem to have happened, does it?
JC: Part of the agreement was that they be removed and destroyed. Indeed large numbers of them were. Clearly there are chemical weapons still in Syria so obviously – and this appears to be chlorine which was used, which was not, as I understand it, destroyed in 2013 because it wasn’t there at the time.
Q: If it’s proven to be used by the Syrian government would you then authorise, back the authorisation of, some form of military action against the government?
JC: I think you have to be sure of where you are first. You then have to ensure there is a process for the removal of those weapons and, using all the 12 countries that are now involved in the war in Syria, using all of them to put that pressure on the Syrian government to make a ceasefire and remove those weapons. The danger at the movement is, if we go in with targeted or massive bombardment, further civilians will die, further chaos will be caused and the war will escalate still further. This is a time, surely, when we have to use all the authority we have to prevent a continuation and escalation of the war.
Q: Are there circumstances in which you would back military action in Syria?
JC: Well, let’s cross that bridge when we get there. My position is: let’s do everything we can to stop the war at the present time. An escalation of the war is in nobody’s interests. Too many, hundreds of thousands, of wholly innocent civilians have been killed in this war. Millions are now in exile; it’s the biggest refugee crisis the world has seen since the Second World War.
Q: You’ve called for this investigation. You’ve seen that this investigation has been continually vetoed by the Russians. Do you have anything that you would like to say to the Russian government about why they should change their minds on this?
JC: I would say quite simply to the Russian government: you’re part of the UN, you’re part of the world system, you’re clearly involved in Syria as you’re involved in other places. This is a time for you and the US to work in the interests of peace in the world .Stop blocking each other’s motions. Have those talks and those negotiations, and I hope there are back channel negotiations going on at the moment, so we can get the investigation and get a cessation of this terrible conflict. In who’s interests does it serve to continue this war?
Q: The British war cabinet met yesterday and have decided to take action. I mean what’s your message to Theresa May?
JC: She appears to be waiting for whatever Donald Trump decides to do which I think is not a particularly positive message. I would have hoped that she would have instead listened to what the UN Secretary General has said and the Swedish government has said – after all we have excellent relations with Sweden – and gone back to the UN on that. Maybe a British-sponsored resolution on this would be a helpful way forward. Surely it’s better to work as hard as we can to prevent a further bombardment than to merely propose bombing.
Q: The alternative is, isn’t it, that this act goes unpunished?
JC: Every action of the use of chemical weapons does have consequences in international law
Q: Consequences for Bashar al-Assad are that he’s now seemingly taking control of Douma so he’s benefitted from using these chemical weapons?
JC: The Assad forces are clearly more or less in control of Douma at the present time, that is true. Surely the issue now has to be to bring about a cessation of the conflict. Not just in Douma but in the other remaining parts of Syria where there is a conflict going on. There are 12 countries involved already in the war in Syria and they also have conflicts between each other. Saudi Arabia and Iran, a very tense relationship between them; the US and Russia obviously tensions between them. The danger is that if we start bombardment – what happens if the US shoot down a Russian plane or the Russians shoot down a US plane? Where does it go from there? It appears that cautious and wider counsels than the USA are concerned about escalation. Surely we all should be?
Q: What are your fears about where it could go?
JC: Where it could go is you end up then with a much more intense and hotter air war between the USA and Russia over the skies of Syria. That surely is a terrible danger. They’re both very powerful nations, both have enormous forces, both have enormous capabilities. Surely it’s time for them to recognise that, in the interests of everybody else, they should hold back and put the pressure they can both on their allies in the region and in Russia’s case on the Syrian government.
Q: You are seen as someone – you must know this – as someone who’s opposed to military action on almost any level. Do you ever regret not backing military action? For example with Isis. You voted against attacking Isis in Iraq and Syria but we’ve seen the depletion of Isis. If you’d got your way they might still be a force to be reckoned with Iraq and Syria.
JC: Indeed we have seen the depletion of Isis but we’ve also seen in that whole period a massive arming of Isis by arms made in all parts of the world. The point I was making all along was those countries responsible for pouring arms into the region have something to answer for as well.
Q: So your solution may have left us with a very strengthened Isis in a region in Iraq…
JC: It might have isolated and destroyed support for Isis but we are where we are at the present time.
Q: So you don’t regret that?
JC: I took those decisions with my eyes open and my views on this…
Q: And they haven’t changed?
JC: My default position is to save human life. Stop the extension and war and look at the causes…
Q: We killed about 3,000 rebels, Isis insurgents…
JC: And many civilians were also killed during that period. My point was you cut off the supply and that helps to isolate it but we are where we are now. Let’s look at this as a crisis and a turning point. A turning point that can help bring about a long-term solution.
Q: The people like Assad and Putin will just look at us and say ‘great we can use the UN to veto everything that they want to do and their inaction is weakness’ and they will just carry on doing what they want to do.
JC: Well they might look at it another way and say, actually, we’re becoming more and more politically isolated as a result of this. There are consequential problems of relationships with other countries as a result of this and we are expending a large amount of money; we are in danger of losing forces and we’re in danger of getting into a really dangerous war. Surely they whole purpose of the existence of the UN, the whole purpose of that diplomatic process is to try and save life and bring about peace.
Q: I just want to put to you what Kate Osamor said. “If a leader is killing their own they need to be removed.”
JC: I think she was expressing a view which many people would have in Syria towards Assad and I hope there will be a point where the people of Syria will want to decide the future of their own country and the future of their own leaders.
Q: She also suggested that your spokespeople should do the talking for you on foreign affairs. Do you agree with that?
JC: I think she was doing an interview for the House magazine which was a quite long-term and, sort of, thoughtful piece. Obviously it’s the job of all of us to speak out on this. I’m the leader of the party therefore I have to try to bring those policies and views together and that’s what I do.
Q: On the attack in Salisbury, we’ve now had the report from the OPCW, do you accept it, do you feel now that it’s pretty without reasonable doubt that Russia carried it out?
JC: The OPCW identified what the weapon was, what was used to try and kill the Skripals and that it was of a military grade, very high quality and therefore it had to be made, they felt, by a state organisation. They didn’t actually identify who had done it but they…
Q: So you think there’s still potential that it could have been a state outside Russia?
JC: We don’t know where it was manufactured; that is the next stage of the investigation but I’m glad the OPCW were brought in and I’m glad our government agreed to bring them initially having been rather sceptical of that process. Chemical weapons are illegal, they’ve been illegal for a very long time and we are part of the OPCW and we need to make sure that it does have pre-eminence in inspections. I think one of the weaknesses of its system is that it can only inspect one location per country. I think it should have enhanced and wider powers and surely a lesson from this is: give it wider powers.
Q: One of the things the lessons might be is that it’s able to say this is a weapons-grade novichok-style chemical that was made by Russia.
Q: And therefore what we’ve learned is that Russia is behind this attack. Do you agree?
JC: Precisely. They should have the power to identify further than they have at the present time.
Q: Do you still stand by your calls that Russia should be involved in the investigation?
JC: Well, if any country is accused of doing anything, then the accusation must be levelled at them and, my point was that if the Russians are saying it wasn’t them, OK: this is the material that was used; this has a remarkable similarity to material that you produced, tell us why there is this similarity. And so, I do think you do have to have a robust, very robust relationship, but you have to have a relationship.
Q: Do you think they should be involved in the investigation?
JC: I think they should be given the opportunity to confirm or deny whether it’s their weapon or not.
Q: But there are some senses that your line is very, kind of, moving alongside the lines that are coming from Russia and that you’re in a way an apologist for Russia.
JC: That’s complete nonsense. Utter nonsense.
Q: Do you feel that accusation, for example, you’ve said in your statement yesterday, reminding everyone of the Chilcot Inquiry and today the Russian Ambassador has been reminding everyone of the Chilcot Inquiry and it feels like…
JC: I can hardly be held responsible for what the Russian ambassador says the day after I’ve said something.
Q: But he’s playing videos of Tony Blair. Basically you’re questioning the legitimacy of the British intelligence services in this instance based on the Chilcot Inquiry.
JC: What I’m saying is that the Chilcot Inquiry was a wakeup call to all of us about the way in which decisions were made and we should listen to that. Does this mean that I’m a stooge of somebody else? Obviously no; that’s ridiculous. I condemn human rights abuses wherever they occur, including in Russia with the attacks on the LGBT community, with their treatment of people in Chechnya, with the treatment of dissent and protest in Russia. I made that very clear in my contribution to the debate in parliament and, indeed, I was in Russia in the 1990s protesting about their behaviour in Chechnya.
Q: Do you have faith in the British intelligence services?
JC: Of course. I want to work with them and I want them to work with us when we’re in government in order to bring about a more peaceful and more secure world.
Q: You’ve asked for access to the Privy Council intelligence. Have you been given…
JC: There’s no problem about that.
Q: So you’re going to be given that?
JC: There’s no problem about that.