US wants quick vote on Syria chemical weapons inspectors
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Wednesday the United States is circulating a resolution that would extend by another year the work of inspectors seeking to determine who is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Haley told reporters the United States wants a quick vote so the Joint Investigative Mechanism is renewed before its expected report Oct. 26 on responsibility for the April 4 attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 90 people.
She said “there’s overwhelming support” in the Security Council to renew the inspectors’ work for another year. But, she added, “Russia has made it very clear that should the report blame Syria” for the attack “they won’t have faith in the JIM. If the report doesn’t blame the Syrians then they say that they will.”
Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who heads the country’s delegation to the General Assembly’s disarmament committee, told U.N. reporters Friday that Russia will wait for the report on the Khan Sheikhoun attack before deciding whether to extend the inspectors’ mandate.
“We can’t work like that,” Haley said. “We need to look at the attack. We need to prove that it was actually a chemical, and then we need to look at who did it. We can’t go and pick and choose who we want to be at fault, who we don’t.”
A fact-finding mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical reported on June 30 that sarin nerve gas was used in the attack. But it is up to the Joint Investigative Mechanism, a joint OPCW-U.N. body, to determine responsibility.
Russia, a close ally of Syria, has accused the United States and its Western allies of rushing to judgment and blaming the Syrian government for sarin use in Khan Sheikhoun. It has also criticized the June 30 report by the OPCW fact-finding mission as “very biased.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in late August that the OPCW fact-finding mission was looking at more than 60 alleged incidents of the use of chemical weapons in Syria between December 2015 and the end of March 2016. He said it would focus its future work on “credible allegations.”
Haley said in a statement later Wednesday that “given the multiple chemical attacks that we have seen in Syria, renewing the mandate for the Joint Investigative Mechanism ... is critical.”
“We need to ensure accountability for these attacks, which have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, including children who were sleeping or trying to go to school,” she said.
Guterres on Wednesday echoed the importance of the inspectors as “a tool addressing the problems of accountability.”
“And we fully support their activities, and we are waiting for the report to be presented,” he told reporters.