Syria crisis: Regime has given Russia 'proof' of rebel chemical weapon use

Foreign Minister Lavrov remains at odds with French over culpability for deaths

John Lichfield
Wednesday 18 September 2013 17:26
Parents grieve over the body of their child killed in a suspected chemical attack in Damascus
Parents grieve over the body of their child killed in a suspected chemical attack in Damascus

Syria has turned over "material evidence" to Russia which shows that a chemical weapons attack in Damascus was carried out by the rebels, a Moscow diplomat has claimed.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister also accused the report carried out by UN inspectors of being “distorted” and “one-sided”, according to the BBC.

The report suggests the rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were fired from the regime's elite military units base in mountains overlooking Damascus. A senior UN diplomat in New York says details on scale of the attack, the rockets used and trajectory data cited in the report make it "abundantly clear" that the Syrian regime was behind the attack. The diplomat said: "There isn't a shred of evidence in the other direction."

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because some of the material was from private meetings.

In an interview with RT, Mr Ryabkov said the Assad regime had provided Russia with evidence that chemical weapons had been used by rebels, and said “we need to analyse it”.

France has since rejected the claims , with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius telling a press conference in Paris that: “Nobody can question the objectivity of the people (inspectors) appointed by the UN.”

Russia continues to insist that opposition forces carried out the murderous gas attack near last month - throwing into doubt the prospect of a rapid UN deal on Syrian disarmament.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after talks in Moscow with his French counterpart, said that he had “serious grounds” to believe that the gas attack confirmed by UN inspectors on Monday was a “provocation” by rebels. Mr Lavrov once again rejected Western demands that a UN security council resolution on Syrian chemical disarmament should include an automatic right to use force if Damascus fails to comply.

He said that Moscow would stick by its interpretation of the wording of the deal that he reached with the United States in Geneva last weekend. Mr Lavrov said that military force, under Chapter Seven of the UN charter, might be possible if Syria failed to surrender its chemical arsenal – but only after a second security council vote.

Western governments fear that such a two-step agreement – although implied by the ambiguous wording of the Geneva deal – would allow Moscow to veto international backing for punitive strikes even if Syria drags its feet. This would create domestic, political embarrassment and legal difficulties for Washington and Paris if they went ahead with their “suspended” threat of punitive air strikes.

Under the agreement reached between Mr Kerry and Mr Lavro in Geneva, Damascus must submit a full inventory of its arsenal by the end of this week, admit international inspectors by November and surrender its chemical weapons by the middle of next year. After much haggling, the Russians agreed wording which threatens “ consequences” if Syria failed to comply but – according to Moscow - stipulates that there must be a second UN resolution before any punitive action.

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said before he left France that he hoped to persuade Mr Lavrov to accept the harder line demanded by the US, Britain and France after talks in Paris on Monday. He also said that the UN inspectors’ report, released on Monday, would force Moscow to abandon its previous claims that rebels were responsible for the gas attack near Damascus on 21 August.

In the event, Mr Fabius made no progress on either point. The two men told a press conference in Moscow that they had been unable to bridge their differences – casting doubt on the prospects for a speedy UN security council resolution.

“We have very serious grounds to believe that the [gas attack] was a provocation [by rebels],” Mr Lavrov said. He said that the UN report proved that chemical weapons had been used but had not solved key issues such as “whether the weapons were produced in a factory or home-made”.

Mr Fabius begged to differ. “When you look at the amount of sarin gas used, the [means of delivery], the techniques behind such an attack, as well as other aspects, it seems to leave no doubt that the [Assad] regime is behind it,” the French foreign minister said.

On the wording of a UN security council resolution to give international weight to the US-Russia deal in Geneva, Mr Lavrov was also adamant. He said that he had “spoken clearly” in Geneva about rejecting an automatic use of force. However, if evidence emerged that Damascus was not complying with a first UN resolution, then the “the Security Council will [meet again to] examine the situation.”

The three western permanent members of the security council – the US, Britain and France – are expected to draft a resolution this week under the “use-of-force” clause in the UN charter. Mr Fabius told French radio before leaving Paris that he was confident that Moscow would not use its veto to block such a resolution.

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