The U.N. Security Council is preparing to meet in an emergency session Monday to discuss a suspected chemical attack in Syria, as Russia’s chief diplomat said there was no evidence one ever happened.
The Security Council meeting is shaping up to be a rematch of previous debates on civilian casualties in Syria. Though the council unanimously approved a cease-fire resolution in February, no truce has ever stuck. Russia voted for the cease fire but has repeatedly used its veto power as a permanent member to block any measure that threatens a Syrian offensive against rebels, largely to protect its ally, the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
This time, Russia has attempted to schedule a second, rival meeting to the one called by France and eight other countries, including the United States. Moscow is using a procedural tactic to argue that Syria should be discussed as an issue of terrorism and threat to international security. U.N. diplomats said Russia aims to protect the Assad government from having the focus trained on its suspected use of deadly chemicals against rebels in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
The main resolution to be considered Monday is a version of the one that has been discussed for several months, aiming to allow humanitarian aid workers safe passage to help affected civilians. It has been updated to account for Saturday’s attack.
“The Security Council has to come together and demand immediate access for first responders, support an independent investigation into what happened, and hold accountable those responsible for this atrocious act,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement Sunday.
“The United States supports a new independent, impartial mechanism to make attributions for chemical weapons use in Syria and calls for access for first responders to provide medical help and verification without delay.”
Last month, Haley said the United States “remains prepared to act if we must” to protect civilians in Syria.
The Security Council debate is scheduled amid mounting international pressure for strong action to respond to the attack in Douma, if it can be independently verified.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that Russian aid workers had visited the area and found no evidence that chemical weapons were used.
President Donald Trump on Sunday said there will be a “big price to pay” for the attack, suggesting a possible military strike. French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to act unilaterally if the Syrian military used chemical weapons again. And British officials said Monday they are monitoring the situation in coordination with allies.
Meanwhile, Russia and Syria blamed Israel for airstrikes at a Syrian air base Monday. Israel has not responded to the charge.
But the accusations underscore the danger that the war that has convulsed Syria for the past seven years could spin even further into violence.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Carol Morello