US wants UN investigation into gas attacks in Syria, hopes for no Russian veto

EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED BADRA

Children receive treatment after an alleged gas attack on al-Shifunieh village, in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, 25 February 2018.

US wants UN investigation into gas attacks in Syria, hopes for no Russian veto


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The United States wants the United Nations Security Council to create a new inquiry into who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, three months after Russia vetoed a previous UN inquiry.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Thursday she hopes to put it to a vote as early as next week. The initiative comes days after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a child suffocated to death and 13 other people fell ill from a suspected chlorine gas attack over the weekend.

A previous international investigation, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), ended in November after Russia blocked for the third time in a month attempts to renew the inquiry, which Moscow has slammed as flawed.

Russia then in January proposed its own draft resolution to create a new inquiry, but has never put it to a vote. The United States slammed the Russian text as a bid to distract from a French initiative to target perpetrators of toxic gas attacks.

“When the Russians put their mechanism forward, that’s a nonstarter, and so that’s why we’re coming back out with another one,” Haley told Reuters. “We’ve been working on it since the [previous inquiry] was killed.”

“We’ve taken into account certain things that [Russian diplomats] thought were an issue, but if they want no mechanism at all, they’ll veto it,” Haley said.

U.S. diplomats said their draft resolution to set up a new one-year inquiry was discussed at a UN meeting on March 1, but Russian diplomats did not attend.

A council diplomat said it was unlikely Russia would back the measure, which calls for investigators to operate in “an impartial, independent, and professional manner.”

Russia criticized the previous UN investigative team for reaching conclusions about who perpetrated a chemical attack sometimes without visiting the place where the attack occurred or collecting evidence firsthand.

Russia and Syria flatly rejected a final conclusion reached in the previous inquiry, which found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an attack last April that killed nearly 100 civilians in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun.

Russian diplomats vetoed efforts to renew the inquiry after that incident, complaining that the UN investigative team never visited the site of the attack or the Syrian air base from where the attack was allegedly launched.

Meanwhile, North Korea denied reports it had cooperated with Syria on chemical weapons, dismissing them as a fabrication by the United States to pressure the country, state media reported late Thursday.

Robert Wood, U.S. disarmament ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said on Wednesday that there has been a history of a relationship between the two countries with regard to missile activity, chemical weapons components.

Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential U.N. report on North Korea sanctions violations.

Syria signed up to the international ban on chemical weapons in 2013, as part of a deal brokered by Moscow to avert U.S. air strikes in retaliation for a nerve gas attack that killed hundreds of people, which Washington blamed on Damascus. In the years that followed, Syria’s declared stockpile of banned poison gasses was destroyed by international monitors.

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