At U.N., France urges U.S. to commit to Syria solution

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 05, 2017 11:31 AM

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - France urged Russia on Wednesday to exert stronger pressure on the Syrian government to end the country's six-year-long war after a poison gas attack killed scores of people, and called on the United States to seriously commit to finding a solution to the conflict.

Western countries blamed President Bashar al-Assad's armed forces for the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in a rebel-held area of northern Syria hit by government air strikes. [L5N1HD1OV]

The 15-member United Nations Security Council was briefed on the attack on Wednesday.

"We're talking about war crimes," French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters ahead of the briefing.

"We urge Russia to exert much stronger pressure to the regime ... Frankly we also need an America that is seriously committed to a solution in Syria and that puts all its weight behind it," he said.

Speaking in the council, British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft asked Russia: "What is your plan? What is your plan to stop these horrific senseless attacks? We had a plan and we had the support and you rejected it to protect Assad."

In February, Syrian ally Russia, backed by China, cast its seventh veto to protect Assad's government from council action, blocking a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions over accusations of chemical weapons attacks.

Rycroft said those vetoes sent Assad a message of encouragement and Tuesday's attack was "the consequence."

"The U.K. delegate ... is openly distorting the position of China, this is not to be tolerated," China's U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi said, adding that Rycroft was "abusing the Security Council, doing so will not be in the interests of the Syrian people."

An investigation by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015 and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas.

The United States, Britain and France have proposed a Security Council resolution to condemn the latest chemical weapons attack, and push Syria to provide an international inquiry with flight plans and logs for Tuesday, the names of all helicopter squadron commanders and access to air bases.

Russia described the draft resolution as "unacceptable." Council diplomats said it could be put to a vote as early as Wednesday afternoon. [L5N1HD41U]

Assad had agreed in 2013 to give up his chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.

U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo told the Security Council on Wednesday that all Syria's declared chemical materials and equipment have been removed or destroyed.

"For the past three years the OPCW has worked with the Syrian Arab Republic to assess and verify their declaration. A number of outstanding issues related to Syria's declaration remain open," he told the council.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alistair Bell)