The new US push to investigate chemical attacks in Syria

The United States is making a push at the United Nations to set up a new inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, three months after Russia killed a previous UN inquiry.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN said on March 1, 2018, that she wants the UN Security Council to create a new investigative team charged with determining who is behind chemical attacks in Syria following several reports of the use of chlorine gas in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks.

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U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said she hopes the council will vote on the measure in early March 2018. The initiative comes days after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a child suffocated to death and 13 other people fell ill from a suspected chlorine gas attack over the weekend.

A previous UN inquiry ended in November 2017 after Russia vetoed efforts to renew its mandate. Russia maintained that the investigative team, which had attributed most of the chemical attacks it investigated to the Syrian government, was biased against its ally. Damascus insists it has renounced all use of chemical weapons.

syrian soldier chemical mask

A Syrian soldier aims an assault rifle from his position in a foxhole during a firepower demonstration.

Russia, in January 2018, offered its own plan to create a new inquiry but has never put it to a vote before the council. The Russian plan was opposed by the United States and other Western countries, which said it gave Syria too much influence over investigations.

“When the Russians put their mechanism forward, that’s a non-starter, and so that’s why we’re coming back out with another one,” Haley told Reuters. “We’ve been working on it since the [previous inquiry] was killed.”

“We’ve taken into account certain things that [Russian diplomats] thought were an issue, but if they want no mechanism at all, they’ll veto it,” Haley said.

U.S. diplomats said their draft resolution to set up a new one-year inquiry was discussed at a UN meeting on March 1, 2018, but Russian diplomats did not attend.

A council diplomat said it was unlikely Russia would back the measure, which calls for investigators to operate in “an impartial, independent, and professional manner.”

Russia criticized the previous UN investigative team for reaching conclusions about who perpetrated a chemical attack sometimes without visiting the place where the attack occurred or collecting evidence firsthand.

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Russia and Syria fiercely rejected a final conclusion reached in the previous inquiry, which found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an attack April 2017 that killed nearly 100 civilians in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun.

Russian diplomats vetoed efforts to renew the inquiry after that incident, complaining that the UN investigative team never visited the site of the attack or the Syrian airbase from where the attack was allegedly launched.