OPCW chief: 'Unfortunate' that Syria probe's mandate blocked

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2017 8:11 AM
OPCW chief: 'Unfortunate' that Syria probe's mandate blocked

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog said Friday that Russia's veto of United Nations Security Council resolutions to extend the mandate of an investigation team that lays blame for chemical attacks in Syria "creates a gap which needs to be addressed by the international community."

The mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, set up by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons expired earlier this month after the Syrian government's staunch ally Russia blocked efforts to extend its mandate.

Russia has been highly critical of the JIM's findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and used the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.

The JIM also accused the Islamic State extremist group of using mustard gas in 2015 and again in September 2016 in Um Hosh in Aleppo.

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu lamented the end of the JIM.

"It is unfortunate that the mandate of this mechanism is not extended and clearly that creates a gap which needs to be addressed by the international community," he told The Associated Press.

Members of the OPCW's Executive Council were scheduled to meet later Friday to debate their response to the report.

A draft decision put forward by the United States, Colombia, Estonia and Saudi Arabia is expected to be discussed.

It calls for the council to demand that the Syrian government immediately stop using chemical weapons and to express "its strong conviction that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable," according to a copy of the draft text seen by The Associated Press.

Executive Council decisions are generally adopted by consensus, but with the United States and its allies at loggerheads with Russia and its supporters, it is likely to be put to a vote.

Russia and Iran also filed a draft decision for the council earlier this month calling for a "full scale, professional, and high quality investigation" in Khan Sheikhoun, including a site visit.

"There are serious differences of view on the issues that are being discussed because it's somehow the extension of the conflict which is still underway in Syria," Uzumcu said.

The OPCW has a fact-finding mission, which works to confirm allegations of chemical attacks in Syria, but does not apportion blame.

Uzumcu said that there are allegations of more than 80 different uses of chemicals as weapons over the last two years.

"The list is long," he said.

Uzumcu said that mission will continue, including a visit to Damascus soon to look into Syrian government claims of attacks by rebels.