Rival US and Russian resolutions to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria suffered defeats at the United Nations on Tuesday, a result that the Russian ambassador said the Trump administration wanted so it can “justify the use of force against Syria.”
The Security Council also rejected another Russian-drafted resolution that would have welcomed an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons of allegations of a weekend chemical attack in the suburbs of Syria’s capital. The US, Britain and France opposed the measure, saying that the investigators are already headed there and that the text didn’t include a new way to assess blame for chemical attacks.
The council has met four times in the past week on chemical weapons in Syria, with the US, Britain and France facing off against Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key ally that insists no chemical attack took place in the Douma suburb.
As tensions escalate over possible US-led military reprisals for the suspected attack, the UN’s most powerful body remained paralyzed, unable to overcome its deep divisions that have been a hallmark of its debates during the seven years of conflict in Syria.
Sweden’s ambassador, Olof Skoog, who tried unsuccessfully to find a compromise solution, told the council after the third vote that he was disappointed.
“I just hope that we do not consider this the end when it comes to ensuring that the facts are established ant that there is a true accountability and no more impunity for the horrendous use of chemical weapons in Syria and elsewhere,” Skoog said.
After the defeat of Russia’s second resolution, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said to US Ambassador Nikki Haley: “I would once again ask you, once again beseech you, to refrain from the plans that you’re currently developing for Syria.”
The threats of US military action against Syria “should make us seriously worried, all of us,” Nebenzia said.
In Tuesday’s first vote, Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have condemned the suspected Douma attack in the strongest terms and established a new independent and impartial investigative body to determine responsibility for Syrian chemical attacks.
The vote was 12 in favor, with Bolivia joining Russia in voting “no” and China abstaining.
“History will record that, on this day, Russia chose protecting a monster over the lives of the Syrian people,” Haley said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
She said the United States “went the extra mile” to get Russian support for the resolution to ensure that a new investigative body would be impartial, independent and professional — provisions she said were not in the rival Russian resolution.
Haley said the Russian draft would have allowed Russia to choose the investigators and assess the outcome of the investigation. “Does any of that sound independent or impartial?”
Nebenzia accused the United States of trying to mislead the international community and said it is “taking one more step toward confrontation.”
He said the US and its allies didn’t need a resolution to determine responsibility because it was already blaming Syria and Russia.
“You do not want to hear the fact that no traces of a chemical attack were found in Douma,” Nebenzia said. “You simply have been looking for a pretext” and want the resolution to fail “to justify the use of force against Syria.”
A joint UN-OPCW investigative team accused Syria of using chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others. The latter attack led to a US airstrike on a Syrian airfield.
The team also accused the Islamic State extremist group of using mustard gas twice in 2015 and 2016.
Russia rejected the findings on Syria’s culpability and vetoed a Western-backed resolution in November that would have renewed the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM.
Nebenzia told the council Tuesday the US resolution was trying to recreate the JIM, which he said “became a puppet in the hands of anti-Damascus forces.”
The rival Russian resolutions — on a new accountability body and the OPCW fact-finding mission — both failed to get the required nine “yes” votes needed for adoption. The US, Britain and France voted against both measures but didn’t have to use their vetoes.
Nebenzia and Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said that despite the council’s failure to welcome the OPCW fact-finding mission, its investigators are heading to Syria with support from both Russia and Syria.
Nebenzia said two groups of OPCW experts could be on the ground “as early as this week.”