US, Russia Headed For Showdown Over Syria Chemical Weapons

Friday, 17 Nov, 2017

Russian Federation and the United States have put forward rival draft resolutions on renewing for a year the mandate of the UN-led Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), tasked with identifying perpetrators of Syria's toxic gas attacks.

However, in recent times, we have heard from the Pentagon and the special representative for the fight against ISIS that despite the defeat by Syrian forces of that terrorist group the U.S. has not withdrawn its military presence in the Levantine nation, said the head of Russian diplomacy, stressing that Damascus has always called that deployment illegal and against the will of the Syrian people.

The vote is scheduled for 2000 GMT, just hours before the mandate of the so-called JIM expires at midnight. That averted a USA military strike in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

At the heart of the dispute is the demand by Russia, Syria's most important ally, for changes in the way the JIM operates.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which implements the 1997 convention, investigates alleged use of chemical weapons.

Russian Federation has sharply criticised the JIM after its latest report blamed the Syrian air force for a sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun that left scores dead.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged all members of the U.N. Security Council to back the renewal of the global inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, saying it was needed to prevent President Bashar al-Assad from using the arms, Reuters reports.

Previous reports by the JIM have found that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that the Islamic State (IS) militant group used mustard gas in 2015.

The UN Security Council will vote Thursday on whether to extend an investigation to determine who is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria, with Russian Federation expected to cast a veto.

The White House in June cautioned against another possible chemical weapons strike in Syria, warning that the Assad government would "pay a heavy price" for it. "Not doing so would only give consent to such atrocities while tragically failing the Syrian people who have suffered from these despicable acts".

Russia's move drew harsh criticism from US Ambassador Nikki Haley, who said Russian Federation had struck a "deep blow" to United Nations efforts to identify those using chemical weapons and deter future attacks.

We immediately consulted the US Department of State on that matter and the official who assisted us offered an unclear explanation, which demonstrated his understanding of the absurdity of Mattis' statement, he said. And it would underscore the importance of the JIM "conducting its investigations according to high methodological standards" and basing its findings on "evidentiary levels" outlined in 2016.

"Russia has refused to engage on our draft resolution — which the vast majority of council members agree is the most viable text — in spite of our multiple attempts to consider Russian concerns", said the spokesperson, who wasn't authorized to be quoted by name. And it welcomes the "full and profound cooperation" extended by the Syrian government in establishing facts related to the Khan Sheikhoun and Um Hosh attacks.