Syria, Russia slammed at chemical weapons watchdog meeting

November 9, 2017
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, meets with Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Nov 7, 2017. Syria's state-run news agency SANA said Assad and Velayati have vowed to defend their interests amid rising regional tensions. (SANA via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Syria and its close ally Russia faced harsh criticism on Thursday at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons following an investigation that blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for a sarin attack that killed about 100 people in April.

At a closed-doors meeting of the chemical weapons watchdog’s executive council, U.S. representative Kenneth D. Ward said that Russia “continues to deny the truth and, instead, collaborates with the Assad regime in a deplorable attempt to discredit” the joint U.N.-OPCW investigation.

The text of Ward’s statement was posted on the OPCW website.

Russia has denounced the results of the investigation into the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. It also vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to renew the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, known as the JIM, which expires this month.

The OPCW has a team called Fact Finding Mission, which investigates whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria. The JIM was set up by the Security Council to apportion blame for such attacks.

Russia and Iran submitted a draft proposal to the meeting, which was viewed by The Associated Press. The proposal effectively called for the Khan Sheikhoun investigation to be reopened and for the Fact Finding Mission to conduct on-site investigations through a team recruited “in a balanced manner and on as wide a geographical basis as possible.”

Speaking after the meeting, Russia’s representative to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, blamed the United States and its allies for politicizing OPCW’s executive council — an accusation the U.S. and its allies level at the Russians.

Britain’s representative to the OPCW, Peter Wilson, said the U.N. Security Council should renew the JIM’s mandate.

“No ifs, no buts and no skimping on the mandate. It must be able to do its job,” Wilson said.

He dismissed the Russian-Iranian proposal as a “thinly veiled political attack on the professional integrity of the director general” of the OPCW.

Ward, meanwhile, said the meeting in The Hague also had to send a strong message condemning the use of chemical weapons.

“Let me be clear — inaction by this council is unacceptable, as it would severely damage the credibility and effectiveness of this organization and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and undermine the broader framework of arms control and non-proliferation,” he said.

Statements and decisions issued by the OPCW’s Executive Council are normally adopted by consensus, but that is becoming difficult to find as the council is increasingly politicized.

Western powers have expressed support for the JIM and the team’s report, which also concluded that the extremist Islamic State group was responsible for a mustard gas attack in Syria at Um Hosh, in Aleppo in September 2016.

In 2013, Syria accepted a Russian proposal to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile and join the Chemical Weapons Convention. That averted a U.S. military strike in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

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