US says vote likely Monday on Syrian chemical weapons probe
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States put a resolution that would extend the work of inspectors seeking to determine who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria into a final form and said a vote is likely on Monday.
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations sent reporters the brief final text of the resolution late Friday which would extend the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, known as the JIM, for another year.
Russia, a close ally of Syria, has criticized the JIM and it is unclear whether it would veto the resolution.
Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who heads the country’s delegation to the General Assembly’s disarmament committee, told U.N. reporters on Oct. 13 that Russia wants to wait for a JIM report, expected Oct. 26, on the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed over 90 people before making a decision.
The April 4 attack sparked outrage around the world as photos and video of the aftermath, including quivering children dying on camera, were widely broadcast.
The United States blamed the Syrian military for the attack and launched a punitive strike days later on the Shayrat air base where it said the attack was launched. Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied using chemical weapons.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Wednesday there is “overwhelming support” among Security Council members to extend the JIM mandate but she said Russia wants to see if the JIM blames Syria for the Khan Sheikhoun attack, in which case it will have no faith in the investigative body.
“If the report doesn’t blame the Syrians then they say that they will” renew the JIM’s mandate, she said.
“We can’t work like that,” Haley said. “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.”
The JIM is a joint investigative body of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations.
It determined last year that the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks involving chlorine gas, and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.
A fact-finding mission by the OPCW reported on June 30 that sarin nerve gas was used in the Khan Sheikhoun attack. But it is up to the JIM to determine responsibility.
Russia 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.”
Edmund Mulet, the head of the JIM, appealed to governments in July to stop exerting political pressure on his team’s investigators.