– Syria tells Russia it has proof rebels used chemicals (BBC News, Sep 18, 2013):
Syria has given Russia new “material evidence” that opposition fighters in the Syrian conflict have used chemical weapons, a Russian minister has said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also said a report by UN inspectors on the alleged use of chemical weapons was “politicised, biased and one-sided”.
He said the inspectors had only looked at evidence of an alleged attack on 21 August, not three previous incidents.
The UN team found that the nerve agent Sarin was used in the 21 August attack.
The report, however, did not apportion blame for the attack but Western nations blame the government forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Damascus – backed by Russia – says opposition forces are to blame.
Meanwhile the chief UN weapons inspector, Ake Sellstrom, has told the BBC it will be difficult to find and destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons, but he believes it is “doable”.
Mr Sellstrom said much depended on whether the Syrian government and the opposition were willing to negotiate.
“Of course, it will be a stressful work,” he added.
Mr Sellstrom also said his team’s report may have contributed to Syria saying it was prepared to give up its chemical weapons.
UN dividedOn Tuesday the five permanent UN Security Council members – France, the UK, the US, Russia and China – met in New York to discuss a resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons.
They were discussing a draft resolution put forward by the UK, France and the US.
Such a document is seen as a key step in a US-Russia brokered plan under which Syria will disclose its arsenal within a week and eliminate it by mid-2014.
However, there have already been key disagreements over the wording.
France, the UK and US want a resolution containing the threat of military action but Russia opposes this.
Earlier, the disagreements were highlighted at a meeting between Mr Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Moscow.
Referring to the UN’s findings, Mr Fabius said: “When you look at the amount of sarin gas used, the vectors, the techniques behind such an attack, as well as other aspects, it seems to leave no doubt that the regime [of President Assad] is behind it.”
But Mr Lavrov said: “We have serious grounds to believe this was a provocation… But the truth needs to be established and this will be a test of the future work of the Security Council.”
He said any UN resolution on the Syrian chemicals issue should not contain the threat of military action.
A resolution under Chapter VII of the UN charter permits military action if other measures do not succeed. Chapter VI requires a purely negotiated solution.
The BBC’s Daniel Sandford in Moscow says Russia has delivered a promise from Syria to give up its chemical weapons, and it seems that at this stage Moscow does not feel like giving the Western allies anything more.
Russia and China have three times blocked Western-backed Security Council resolutions against Mr Assad.
More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against President Assad began in 2011.
Millions of Syrians have fled the country, mostly to neighbouring nations. Millions more have been internally displaced.