UN Ambassador Nikki Haley today lamented the “true tragedy that Russia has sent us back to square one in the effort to end chemical weapons use in Syria” by shielding ally Bashar al-Assad with the Kremlin’s block of a UN Security Council statement condemning the regime’s use of chemical weapons this past weekend.
UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu told the council today that new reports from the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission are “pending,” and “should they conclude that there has been the use, or likely use, of chemical weapons in any of these alleged incidents, our obligation to enact a meaningful response will be further intensified.”
The Syrian American Medical Society reported that 11 residents were treated for chlorine gas poisoning after a regime strike on Saraqeb, in Idlib province.
Haley called the news “a troubling pattern,” noting, “Few things have horrified my country and the world as much as the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against its people. This Council has been outspoken on ending Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and yet, they continue.”
She said that there’s “one country” continuing to “protect the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons by refusing to hold them responsible.”
“We have reports that the Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday. There is obvious evidence from dozens of victims. So we proposed a Security Council press statement condemning these attacks,” the ambassador continued. “So far Russia has delayed the adoption of this statement – a simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas. I hope Russia takes the appropriate step to adopt this text, showing the Council is unified in condemning chemical weapons attacks.”
Haley said Russia “wants to be able to cherry pick the investigators” probing Assad’s chemical weapons use, and “wants to insert unnecessary and arbitrary investigative standards.”
“And it wants the Security Council to be able to review all of the findings of this investigation and decide what makes it into the final report. This is not an impartial mechanism. It is a way to whitewash the findings of the last investigation that Russia desperately wants to bury,” she said. “No one should believe this draft resolution is a good basis for discussion when it is designed to undermine our core principles on chemical weapons. We cannot hope to end the use of chemical weapons if those who use them escape the consequences of their actions.”
Despite Russia’s efforts, she vowed, “We will not cease in our efforts to know the truth of the Assad regime and ensure that that truth is known and acted on by the international community.”
“We are not motivated by score-settling or pay-back or power politics,” Haley said. “We are motivated by the urgent need to end the unique and horrible suffering chemical weapons inflict on innocent men, women, and children of Syria. The Syrian people are counting on us.”
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called Haley’s charges “slander against Russia.”
Haley also highlighted the announcement that the U.S. will contribute to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes in Syria, which was established by the General Assembly in December 2016. “The United States strongly supports the IIIM as a valuable tool to hold the Assad regime accountable for its atrocities, including its repeated and ongoing use of chemical weapons,” she said.
At the State Department, press secretary Heather Nauert said in a statement that the U.S. is “gravely alarmed by continued allegations of the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian Regime to terrorize innocent civilians, this time in Idlib Province near Saraqib.”
“This attack is the sixth such reported instance in the past 30 days in Syria. We implore the international community to speak with one voice, taking every opportunity to publicly pressure the Assad regime, and its supporters, to cease its use of chemical weapons and hold those responsible accountable for these brutal attacks,” Nauert said.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “noted last month in Paris that Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria,” she added.
“By shielding the Syrian regime from accountability, Russia has not lived up to its commitments. The use of chemical weapons by all parties in Syria must unequivocally stop. The people of Syria are suffering; the rest of the world is watching.”