Sep 18, 2013

    Countries at odds over UN report

    RUSSIA said yesterday that it still suspected an Aug 21 chemical-weapons attack in Syria was carried out by rebel forces, ahead of a debate in the United Nations Security Council over stripping the country of its chemical arsenal.

    After meeting in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his French counterpart, Mr Laurent Fabius, said they had differing visions of how to proceed towards the common goal of a peaceful and chemical-weapon-free Syria.

    Russia also strongly rejected claims by both France and the United States that a UN report released on a sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug 21 placed the blame on the Syrian government.

    "We have very serious grounds to believe that this was a provocation," Mr Lavrov said of the attack, which the US has said killed more than 1,400 people in rebel-held areas.

    However, Mr Fabius said that the UN report left "no doubt that the Damascus regime was responsible" for the chemical attack.

    Mr Lavrov and Mr Fabius met a day after France, the US and Britain said they will push for a strong resolution.

    Diplomats said France and Britain are preparing a draft that will demand a threat of sanctions if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad does not comply with the chemical-disarmament plan.

    However, Mr Lavrov stressed that the agreement he reached with his American counterpart, Mr John Kerry, on Saturday meant that the opposition will also be responsible for compliance and that the resolution will not be under the chapter of the UN charter that allows the use of force.

    "The resolution...will not invoke Chapter Seven," he said.

    The report by UN experts released on Monday said the attack used sarin gas delivered by surface-to-surface rockets, but did not assign blame to either side.

    China, which has voted together with Russia in the past against Security Council resolutions spelling out intervention or sanctions in Syria, said it would be taking a "serious look" at the UN report.

    Washington's UN ambassador, Ms Samantha Power, said on Monday that the "high quality" sarin could have been used only by the government.

    "It defies logic to think that the opposition has infiltrated the regime-controlled area to fire on opposition-controlled areas," she said.