Anger after alleged chemical attack in Syria

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Russia has dismissed allegations that a chemical attack took place in the Syrian town of Douma while the United States warned that the world was on the edge of a dangerous precipice.

The Ambassadors of both nations were speaking in an emergency session of the Security Council after allegations of the latest chemical attack emerged over the weekend with claims of more than 60 dead and over 100 000 injured.

The United States has circulated a draft resolution calling for safe and unimpeded humanitarian and medical access to the area while establishing a new independent investigative mechanism to investigate and determine culpability in the alleged attack.

Russia and the United States agree. The Americans warn of a dangerous precipice. The Russians warned of a dangerous threshold to which the world was being driven – but dismissed the very notion that a chemical attack took place in Douma.

“Russian specialists were sent there, specialist on radiological, chemical and biological protection to collect evidence and information. They took soil samples which showed the lack of nerve agent and chlorine containing substances, locals were interviewed about the cessation of resistance to the fighters. Not a single local resident confirmed the chemical attack having taken place. At local hospital, there were no reports about symptoms from attacks of substances such as chlorine,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.

He said Russia was open to considering the US draft resolution while calling on the United States for cooperation based on mutual respect in resolving real and not imagined problems. But the US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that the use of chemical weapons was becoming a new normal.

“Since the Assad regime used chemical weapons at Khan Sheikhoun one year ago, chemical weapons have been reportedly used dozens of times. And this council does nothing. What we are dealing with today is not about a spat between the United States and Russia, this is about the inhumane use of chemical agents on innocent civilians. Each and every one of the nations in this council are on record opposing the use of chemical weapons. There can be no more rationalization for our failure to act.”

The UK’s Ambassador Karen Pierce called the use of chemical weapons an escalatory and diabolical act.

“What Russia is trying to do – it strikes me Mr President – is to turn the debate in the Council away from a discussion of the use of CW into a dispute between East and West, presenting itself as the victim. It is far too important to play games with the politics between East and West in respect of chemical weapons. Russia’s crocodile tears for the people of Eastern Ghouta has an easy answer – it is to join us in a non political attempt to get in humanitarian and protection workers from the UN to do their job of looking after and mitigating the risk to civilians.”

China also indicated that it would support a comprehensive investigation into the incidents in Douma. Ambassador Wu Haitao says, “China supports a comprehensive, objective and impartial investigation of the incident concerned so that it can reach a conclusion that is based on substantiated evidence and that can stand the test of history and the facts so that the perpetrators and responsible parties can be brought to justice.”

The US draft resolution will be taken into closed consultations before any vote is scheduled but be reminded that we’ve had a independent investigative mechanism for chemical weapons use in Syria before – the Joint UN OPCW mechanism established by this very council had previously determined that chemical weapons we used in Syria 6 times, 4 by the Syrian Government and 2 by ISIS.

Russia vetoed the renewal of that mechanism in November last year. It is worth noting that Russia also offered to accompany OPCW investigators to Douma immediately to investigate the latest attack.