April 17, 2018 / 11:38 PM / 2 months ago

Russia sees no need for U.N. inquiry into Syria toxic gas attacks

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday there was no point establishing a new inquiry to determine blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria because the United States and its allies had already acted as judge and executioner.

The United Nation vehicle carrying the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors is seen in Damascus, Syria April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The 15-member council met for the sixth time in the past nine days on Syria as Russia and Western powers face off over a suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma that sparked air strikes by the United States, France and Britain.

Russia requested Tuesday’s briefing on Syria’s northern city of Raqqa, where Islamic State militants were defeated last year by U.S.-backed forces, and the remote Rubkan camp for displaced Syrians near the border with Jordan and Iraq.

“Russia has called us here as part of a messaging campaign to try to distract from the atrocities committed by the (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s) regime,” Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelley Currie told the council.

“In order to do that, Russia has asked this council to focus its attention on the one part of Syria where the Assad regime isn’t pummeling civilians to death with barrel bombs or banned chemical weapons,” she said.

The Security Council has been deadlocked over how to replace a joint United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inquiry, which the council created in 2015 to establish responsibility for toxic gas attacks.

That inquiry ended in November after Russia blocked three attempts by the Security Council to renew its mandate, slamming the joint inquiry as flawed. The inquiry found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin and had several times used chlorine as a weapon. It also blamed Islamic State for mustard gas use.

Rival U.S. and Russian proposals to set up new inquiries into chemical weapons attacks in Syria were not adopted by the Security Council last week.

France, the United States and Britain then circulated a new draft resolution on Saturday that aims to establish a new independent inquiry into who is responsible for Syria toxic gas attacks. Initial talks were held on the text on Monday.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rebuffed the new Western bid for an investigation.

“The idea of creating a mechanism on attributing responsibility for the use of chemical weapons no longer makes any sense when Washington and its allies have already determined who’s guilty and in essence are already acting like self-appointed executioners,” Nebenzia said.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney

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