Russia vetoes extending Syria chemical weapons inspectors
By EDITH M. LEDERER
Oct. 24, 2017
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that would extend the work of inspectors seeking to determine who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria on Tuesday, accusing the United States of calling the vote "to show up and dishonor Russia."
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia tried unsuccessfully to postpone the vote until next month — after the joint body comprising investigators from the U.N. and the chemical weapons watchdog issues a report on Oct. 26 on blame for the April 4th chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed over 90 people.
Russia's call for a delay needed nine "yes" votes in the 15-member Security Council but got only four — Russia, China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan. It was opposed by eight council members with three abstentions.
The U.S.-backed resolution was then put to a vote and received 11 "yes" votes, two "no" votes from Russia and Bolivia, and two abstentions by China and Kazakhstan.
Nebenzia said Russia, a close ally of Syria, has criticized the Joint Investigative Mechanism, known as the JIM. Last year, JIM inspectors determined that Syrian President Bashar Assad's government was behind at least three attacks involving chlorine gas — which Russia strongly disputed — and the Islamic State extremist group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas, which Moscow supported.
Nebenzia sharply criticized U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, saying she pressed for Tuesday's vote before the JIM report knowing that Russia would veto and accused her of breaking the unity of the Security Council, which is important to most members.
"But what's important for you is something else," he said, directing his remarks to Haley. "You need to show up Russia and show that Russia is guilty of not extending the JIM. In fact, you're the one who's begging for confrontation."
Nebenzia said that Russia doesn't want the JIM terminated.
"Don't try to create the impression that the JIM will be a dead letter unless we adopt this resolution today," Nebenzia said before the vote. "Maybe you're trying to do this intentionally to prove to the world that Russia wants to close down the JIM at any cost. That is not true. We're ready to return to extending the JIM after the publication of the report and after we discuss it."
When the council discusses an extension, he said, Russia will insist on amending the JIM mandate, which doesn't expire until Nov. 17, to ensure "the professionalism and impartiality that we want to see."
Haley, who is currently in Africa, said in a statement after the vote that "Russia has once again demonstrated it will do whatever it takes to ensure the barbaric Assad regime never faces consequences for its continued use of chemicals as weapons."
"This is the ninth time Russia has protected Assad and his team of murderers by blocking the Security Council from acting," she said. "In doing so, Russia once again sides with the dictators and terrorists who use these weapons."
But at Tuesday's meeting, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Michele Sison raised the possibility of another vote.
She called on all Security Council members "to take up this vital matter once again" and "preserve this council's unity in the face of Syrian chemical weapons attacks" by extending the JIM mandate.
France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre, the current council president, also called on all council members to come together to allow the JIM mandate's renewal before it expires in mid-November. "This is our historic responsibility," he said.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the purpose of seeking the JIM renewal before the report was "to avoid politicization." But he noted Nebenzia's comments on an extension, saying "there is at least a possibility of us coming back together again."
Sison said the U.S. regrets that Russia put "political considerations over the misery of Syrian civilians who have suffered and died from the use of chemical weapons," saying its reasons for the veto "fool no one."
The attack in Khan Sheikhoun 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. Syria has denied using chemical weapons
A fact-finding mission by the chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, reported on June 30 that sarin nerve gas was used in the Khan Sheikhoun attack. But the job of determining responsibility was given to the JIM.
Russia has repeatedly 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 fact-finding mission as "very biased."
Haley told reporters last week that Russia wants to see if the JIM report blames Syria for the Khan Sheikhoun attack before deciding on an extension.
"We can't work like that," Haley told reporters. "We can't go and pick and choose who we want to be at fault, who we don't."
Nebenzia strongly objected to her comments, telling the council Tuesday that "we have never said that."
As for picking and choosing who's at fault, he said, "it's not us, it's you, the United States, who've already chosen who's guilty. On the first day, you've been stating that it's the Syrian government that is guilty and you punished the Syrian government by an airstrike against Shayrat."