U.N. CHEMICAL WEAPONS INSPECTORS TO RETURN TO SYRIA
|U.N. investigators are planning to return to Syria to follow up on more allegations of chemical weapons use. |
Ake Sellstrom, the head of the inspection team that visited after an August 21 attack, told CNN that the next visit could take place as early as next week.
The news might please Russia, which slammed a recent U.N. chemical weapons report as one-sided and called for inspectors to return to Syria.
Soon after Western countries said the U.N. findings implicated the Syrian regime in using sarin gas, Russia fired back, calling the report "distorted."
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov also told Russia Today that the report was built on insufficient information. He said Russia has its own evidence from the site of the August 21 attack that, according to U.S. estimates, killed more than 1,400 people.
"This analysis is not finished, so the point here is not about accusing parties," Ryabkov told Russia Today. "But the point is ... that those inspectors of the U.N. should come back to Syria to complete their investigation." In the same interview, he said Syria has given Russia evidence that implicates rebels in the August 21 attack, which occurred outside Damascus.
"This confirmation and this evidence has been transmitted to the Russian side ... and we are in the process of studying those," he said without citing what the evidence was.
Russia will present evidence to the Security Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Valdai, Russia, on Wednesday. He did not say when the presentation would take place and added that he himself had not seen it.
Russia has been a strong ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and Russian defense contracts with Syria have probably exceeded $4 billion.
Al-Assad met Wednesday with a U.S. delegation in Damascus, telling its members that the "U.S. administration policies in the region do not serve the American people," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
Is the U.S. back to square one on Syria?
Al-Assad also met with Ryabkov, Syrian state television reported.
He "expressed his and the Syrian people's gratitude for the Russian positions supporting Syria in confronting the aggressive attack and the terrorism that is aided by Western, Arab and regional states," Syria state TV reported.
Moscow's reaction to the U.N. report has differed sharply from those of the United States and France.
"Based on our preliminary review of information contained in the report, several crucial details confirm the Assad regime's guilt in carrying out this attack," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.
She said one of the munitions identified in the report, a 120 mm improvised rocket, has been linked to previous attacks by al-Assad's regime, and "we have no indications that the opposition has manufactured or used this style rocket."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country also believes the report proves the Syrian regime used chemical warfare in opposition strongholds near Damascus.
But Nick Brown, the editor-in-chief of IHS Jane's Defence Equipment and Technology Centre, said that though the U.N. report appears to prove that high-quality, weaponized sarin was used in significant quantities in Syria, "I have not personally seen any compelling data that proves beyond doubt who the weapons were used by."
He added: "There is a degree of circumstantial evidence that appears to point to the attack originating with the Assad forces, but the exact forensic detail of who prepared and then triggered the weapons remains unclear and was beyond the scope of the U.N. investigation."
Securing Syria's chemical weapons: Mission impossible?
Syrian government claims a win
United Nations Security Council members were expected to meet again Wednesday to try to hammer out a resolution to get Syria to give up its chemical weapons.
Reaching a deal will be tough. U.S. and French officials want to include the threat of military action in the event Syria doesn't comply, but Russian officials don't want any wording that could countenance the use of force.
The disagreement came days after Russia and the United States reached a rare agreement on Syria -- a plan for eliminating the country's chemical weapons stockpile. Even Syria agreed to the plan, and U.S. President Barack Obama has held back on possible military action while diplomatic options play out. But even before seeing a Security Council resolution, the Syrian regime claimed an international win.
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi cited "major achievements made by the Syrians in facing the universal war," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported Wednesday.
Al-Halqi also told the Syrian Cabinet about "brilliant victories of the Syrian diplomacy realized ... in terms of preventing the U.S. from launching a military aggression against Syria."
But the diplomacy hasn't stopped bloodshed. The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported Wednesday that regime forces killed 24 people in the village of Kafr Zeiba in Idlib province.
|502 reads | 19.09.2013|