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David Miliband tells Amanpour: Obama convinced Putin to shift policy because of military threat

September 11th, 2013
09:11 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Russia’s earthmoving proposal to secure chemical weapons was not the result of benevolence, but because of President Obama’s threat of force, David Miliband, the new head of the International Rescue Committee and former British Foreign Secretary told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

“I think President Obama convinced President Putin … that he was carrying a very big stick,” Miliband said in an exclusive interview in New York. “I think the Russians have taken that seriously. It would be wrong to describe Syria purely as a client state of Russia, but Russia is clearly a very influential ally of President Assad. And I think they've realized that the game was up. And I think that basically explains the shift that you're seeing.”

Whatever the outcome of a potential diplomatic deal – or military airstrikes – the humanitarian crisis in Syria seems to have gone ignored.

As the head of an organization whose chief focus is people in desperate situations, it is this aspect that Miliband is desperately trying to get the world to focus on.

“The use of chemical weapons is the tip of the humanitarian iceberg in this Syrian crisis,” he told Amanpour. “One in three Syrians have been driven from their homes. Two million Syrians out of the country.”

It is unclear what, if any, impact a solution to the chemical weapons issue – however vital – will have on the humanitarian situation.

“For a country like Lebanon, four million people in Lebanon; seven hundred fifty thousand Syrians arriving there,” Miliband said. “That's like every single Briton, sixty million of us, sixty five million of us, arriving in the U.S. … And that's why it's right to call it a regional crisis, not just a Syrian crisis.”

The response by the international community to this problem, he went on, has been “tardy and too small.”

The United Nations says that its response is only 44 percent funded.

The roadblocks are not just financial, Miliband said.

“I've met doctors in Jordan who are Syrian doctors, talking about how they've been targeted at checkpoints,” he told Amanpour. “I mean, that is taking us centuries back in terms of the way people should be trying to sort these things out.”

Miliband was a British member of parliament during the Iraq War – he now acknowledges that that conflict weighs on the minds of the Western public.

“One of the learnings is that humanitarian catastrophes can have political consequences,” he said. “A second important lesson is that whenever military action is contemplated, it needs a wider diplomatic and political strategy.”

“The question is can we learn from experience rather than be imprisoned by experience?”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Syria
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. ashok

    It is unfortunate that the UN is no longer the world's focal point to settle issues of war and peace. However, the humanitarian crisis that has enveloped Syrians, both those who have stayed back and those who have fled to neighbouring countries, is surely something where it can play a larger role.

    September 11, 2013 at 10:31 am | Reply
  2. M.A.P.

    It is a shame that the UN is almost as unproductive as the US congress now. Like the Republicans vetoing everything Obama tries to pass, Rusia and China play the role of obstructionist, only when it suits their needs. If Assad falls, it is one less customer for Russia and China.

    September 11, 2013 at 11:14 am | Reply
    • IndianSummer

      I've been following the story on the Syrian crisis and it changed my view of Russia, Syria and the US. There is reason to believe Russia and Syria are telling the truth. Watch this link from 60 minutes about the CIA briefing. I hope the link works. If it doesnt, search for 60 minutes and the Briefer.

      September 25, 2013 at 12:12 am | Reply
      • African Queen

        thank you for providing this link!

        September 25, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  3. tepeters

    Those who are opposed to the very idea of a military strike think that the U.N. has to sanction it. The world powers use the U.N. only when it serves their purpose. International law is not made in New York, it is made in Washington, London, Paris, Moscow,and Beijing. Only when those five agree can there be action; that is the way the U.N. was chartered. For the U.N. ever to be really effective the Charter must be amended to do away with the ability of one of those five nations to stop the U.N. in its tracks from being effective.

    September 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Reply
    • IndianSummer

      Remember that the 5 permanent members of the Security Council are super powers. They all have veto power. It's uneasy when Russia opposes the US or vice versa. In the Syrian crisis, Russia has openly said it will oppose any proposal allowing the use of military power. Who are insisting? US, France. UK has been blocked by their congress (something like that). China will block but trying to be neutral. Russia is trying to prevent war from igniting in the middle east whereas Obama seems to have something else in mind, we do not know what it is. Obama appears trigger happy and he said he will proceed even without congressional approval and UN approval. Whoa!!!

      In the case of Khadaffi, he was killed even though he surrendered their weapons. Why was that justified? It is not justified. Putin said that in his speech in Denmark. Nothing also came out of it. That, perhaps, is the lesson for blocking the military component of the agreement.

      September 25, 2013 at 12:20 am | Reply
  4. Mustash

    How could Obama have been a threat when he was facing an imminent defeat in congress?

    September 11, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Reply
  5. JPD

    Presidents Putin and Obama respect and understand one another. It's the world that's complicated and the United States and Russia that are dysfunctional and lack internal cohesion. I would advise these two presidents to discuss the option of Russia participating in overt military action against Syria with the purpose of securing those areas in Damascus where 25,000 Russian citizens reside by means of a physical troop presence. President Obama would make the invitation. President Putin would insist on patroling specific exclusion zones in order to protect his citizens from reprisal violence, and other Russian key interests, for when or if Damascus is over-run. Chancellor Merkel would be very amenable to supporting a strong multi-lateral intervention if it were to include Russia.

    September 11, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  6. jimmy lim

    Putin is not a statesman. He is a tyrant. He has syrian blood on his hand, He is Al assad ally. He supplied all the arms and chemical weapons to the Syrian army. He is not an honest broker. So dont trust Putin

    September 12, 2013 at 6:16 am | Reply

    We cannot be sure of who is receiving funds from which source in order to defend Assad. Milliband's actions and the manner he plays down on the use of chemical weapons against innocent citizens of Syria makes me think that there are black feet in British politics. He should not even try to play down Putin and Assad's fears of an American strike! They are trying to play the ostrich game to delay the strike which will ultimately bring Putin and Assad to the court room; may be alongside some Machiavellic accomplices in the British parliament. Who knows what the investigations might proof. I am sure David Milibrand should already start feeling ashamed now that their protege is now confessing! Shame to stomach politicians in a developed world like Britain! Courage Cameron. Do not give up. God is on our side.

    September 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  8. mystique

    I think it would be totally wrong to say president Putin knew the game was up,so he had to surrender because of president Obama's threat of Force.

    The rest of the world know the truth here.
    Russia seeks an does the vast majority of the Middle west nations seek to strike@Isreal.
    How about the extension of the wars to African nations based on so who is their ally blah blah,not forgetting al-qeada &other islamic militia's spreading terror in Africa.
    Truth be told,President Obama here was the one who thought it better to see She would fail.not just that but her powerful allies would be destroyed thereby linquishing her of her world power status and even plunging her into deeper economic/financial depressions.

    We see the Picture from the Bigger screen &know the truth.dont paint president Obama a saint..he's far from one

    September 13, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Reply

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