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Russia: Approval coming on new body to probe Syria attacks

September 9, 2015

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council’s approval in establishing a new international body to assign blame for chemical attacks in Syria for the first time will be finalized and sent to Ban Ki-moon Thursday, Russia said Wednesday.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the council president this month, told The Associated Press that “yes, the response will be sent tomorrow. My prediction.” The investigative body comes from rare cooperation between Russia and the United States on Syria.

New acting U.N. disarmament chief Kim Won-soo confirmed to reporters that the council’s approval was expected by Thursday. He said it would take “not months” for the new investigative body to begin its work. One of the next steps is updating a cooperation agreement with the Syrian government; Kim said, “I don’t expect a serious problem” there.

Diplomats have said Russia, a key ally of Syria’s government, has held up the council’s approval, which was expected a week ago. Churkin described Russia’s issues as “technical,” but he has expressed interest in having a similar effort to investigate chemical attacks in neighboring Iraq.

The Syrian government denies using chemical weapons, but the United States and other Western nations contend Syria’s government is to blame, especially for barrel bombs containing chlorine and other toxic agents dropped by helicopters. The opposition doesn’t have aircraft.

Reports have also surfaced in recent months that the Islamic State group has used toxic chemicals.

A spokesman for Iraq’s U.N mission last week said Iraq did not want the new investigative body to extend to that country. Going beyond Syria would require another council decision, Kim said Wednesday.

Last month, the council unanimously approved a resolution giving a green light to establish the international body to determine responsibility for chemical attacks that have killed and injured a growing number of civilians over the past two years. The body would operate for one year with the possibility of extensions.

Ban sent a letter to the council last month recommending the establishment of a three-member independent panel backed by experts with the freedom to go anywhere in Syria to identify those responsible for using chlorine and other chemical weapons so perpetrators can be brought to justice.

Kim acknowledged that “access will be a very challenging issue,” especially with the Islamic State group controlling a large part of Syria. He said the investigative body would have a presence in Syria.

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