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UN: 'Clear, Convincing' Evidence of Chemical-Weapons Use In Syria

September 16, 2013


UN inspectors say they have "clear and convincing evidence" that chemical weapons were used "against civilians including children" during an August 21 attack in Syria.

The long-awaited report, presented by UN inspectors led by Swedish chemical-weapons expert Ake Sellstrom, says "environmental, chemical and medical" evidence suggests that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Gouta area of Damascus on August 21, killing hundreds of people.

The report is to be officially released later on September 16, when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will present it to the Security Council.

The UN inspectors were not empowered to investigate who was responsible for the chemical attacks, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or opposition rebels.

Nevertheless, the report is expected to add momentum to a U.S.-Russian agreement aimed at eradicating the Assad regime's chemical weapons.

The UN report comes hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States, Britain, France, and Russia agree that Syria must face "consequences" if it fails to comply with a proposed UN resolution on its chemical weapons.

Kerry was speaking in Paris after talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Kerry said the agreement on Syria he reached in Geneva on September 14 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicates Moscow is ready to support a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

Chapter 7 outlines possible UN authorization of sanctions and military action in response to "threats to the peace" and "acts of aggression."

Kerry said the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would "play games" if the UN resolution is seen as weak or unenforceable.

"We know that even the UN inspectors who were there recently had difficulties getting access in some places," Kerry said. "That is why in Geneva the Russians agreed with us that there should be unfettered, unrestricted access to sites [of chemical weapons] in order to make certain we do this as rapidly as is possible."

'Strong, Robust'

France, Britain, and the United States have agreed to seek a "strong and robust" UN resolution with precise and binding deadlines for removing Syria's chemical weapons.

U.S. President Barack Obama says Washington has evidence proving the attacks were carried out by Assad’s regime and that more than 1,400 people were killed, including more than 400 children.

The U.S.-Russia agreement and the looming UN resolution have put on hold U.S. threats to launch a limited military strike on Syria in response to the chemical attack.

But Hollande says the option of military strikes must remain on the table to ensure the Assad regime complies with the terms of the agreement between Washington and Moscow.

"What should we think about this agreement?" Hollande asked. "I think it's an important step but not an end point."

Russia Skeptical

Hollande has expressed hope a vote on a UN resolution could be held by the end of the week.

Lavrov, however, rejected the suggestion, saying on September 16 in Moscow that anyone calling for a swift resolution is demonstrating a "lack of understanding" of the deal he reached with Kerry.

Lavrov said Moscow's "main agreement with the United States" on Syria's chemical weapons calls for the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to "determine all procedures, storage sites of toxic agents and their components, [and] the number of experts that will be needed."

Lavrov also said a UN resolution threatening Syria at this stage could "wreck peace talks" that Moscow is trying to organize between Assad's regime and Syrian opposition leaders.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/syria-chemical-disarmament/25107982.html

Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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