US leading effort to assign blame for Syria chlorine attacks

AP News
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Posted: May 06, 2015 12:07 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States is leading an effort to create a way to attribute blame for chlorine attacks in Syria, diplomats say, opening a possible path for action on an issue that has sparked outrage as reports of chemical attacks continue.

The U.N. Security Council has been unable to follow up on a resolution it passed last month that condemned such attacks in Syria and threatened action for further violations because no one has had a mandate to assign blame.

Even though the council, badly divided on Syria, came together in 2013 to rid Syria of its chemical weapons program, chlorine was not included in that effort. The chemical does not have to be declared because it is also used for regular purposes in industry.

A council diplomat on Wednesday said the proposed new mechanism likely would answer to the council and would allow experts access to look into attacks. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the diplomat wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the draft.

The U.S. did not immediately comment Wednesday. A U.S. official on Tuesday said, "We are actively engaged in conversations with U.N. colleagues" on the chlorine issue and that "the Security Council must address the need to determine who is responsible."

Russia also did not immediately comment. Moscow is a key ally of Syria's Assad regime and has used its veto power as a permanent council member to block attempts to take action on the war, which is now in its fifth year.

Russia has insisted that more evidence is needed to blame anyone for the chlorine attacks, while the U.S. and some other council members accuse the Syrian government, saying that no other party in the conflict has the helicopters to deliver such weapons.

More details of the U.S.-led effort are expected Thursday, when the U.N. disarmament chief will brief the council on Syria behind closed doors.

It is not yet clear how the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, will be involved in any new mechanism to assign blame for chlorine attacks, but diplomats say it will indeed play a role.

The OPCW this year condemned the use of chlorine in Syria as a breach of international law. Council members have asked the OPCW to look into the latest attacks, and the organization's latest report to the U.N. says a team stands ready to visit Syria to investigate recent claims of attacks against civilians as soon as the government gives approval.

Activists have reported several chlorine attacks since the council's resolution last month. The council earlier this month heard from a Syrian doctor who treated victims from a half-dozen of them. "Everyone smelled bleach-like odors" and heard the sound of helicopters, Mohamed Tennari said of one incident.

The U.S. organized that event in what has been an ongoing effort to keep the issue of Syria in front of council members.