Russia wants new rules for Syria chemical weapons inspectors

Russia would welcome the extension of the UN-sponsored investigations into chemical weapons use in Syria, but considers it necessary to amend the ground rules for them to include on-site inspections, a senior diplomat said Thursday.

Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s arms control and non-proliferation department, harshly criticized a report presented last month by the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, which the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons established to determine responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria.

 

He said Russia, which last month vetoed a proposal to extend the JIM’s work, will shortly circulate its own motion for extending the JIM while making its investigations more objective.

The JIM report said that experts are “confident” that the Syrian government was behind the April 4 sarin attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in April that killed more than 90 people, drawing international outrage and prompting a quick US missile strike on the Shayrat air base that Washington said had been used to launch the attack.

Ulyanov argued that the report was unsubstantiated and ignored evidence suggesting that sarin could have been used by the rebels in order to blame Bashar Assad’s government. He particularly criticized the JIM for failing to take samples from the site of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun and the Shayrat air base despite security guarantees offered to inspectors.

“Imagine a criminal investigation in which police refuse to visit the site of the crime. No court will ever accept it,” Ulyanov said. “But they consider it possible to do such thing at the UN Security Council.”

US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said last month that by blocking a US-sponsored resolution to extend the JIM work “Russia has protected Assad and his team of murderers.”

Russia has backed Assad throughout the Syrian war and helped turn the tide of conflict in his favor with the air campaign it has waged since September 2015. Ulyanov criticized the US and Britain for rushing to conclusion that Assad’s government was to blame for Khan Sheikhoun, adding that it made no sense for Assad’s government to launch such an attack.

Ulyanov argued that the JIM’s conclusion that a Syrian warplane dropped a bomb containing sarin isn’t supported by images of the explosion site that show a crater he said could only have been left by an explosive device planted on the surface.

He also insisted that Syrian planes’ routes recorded by air traffic control means of the US-led coalition prove that none of them approached Khan Sheikhoun closely enough to drop a bomb.

The Russian diplomat pointed out that photos and videos made by the White Helmets volunteer first responders at the attack site in Khan Sheikhoun shows them without proper protection gear – an indication he argued that the attack was a fabrication.

The JIM mandate doesn’t expire until Nov. 17, and Ulyanov said that Russia wants it extended but believes its investigations must be more objective and include on-site inspections.

Source: indianexpress

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