The United States and Russia clashed at the UN Security Council on Monday over a push by Washington to condemn reported chlorine gas attacks in Syria that have left many injured in recent days, including children.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that there was “obvious evidence from dozens of victims” to corroborate the chlorine attacks in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.
“Now we have reports that the [Al] Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday,” Haley said.
The United States proposed that the council adopt a statement condemning “in the strongest terms” the reported February 1 chlorine attack in the town of Douma that injured over 20 civilians including children, according to the draft seen by AFP.
Russia hit back and accused the United States of waging a “propaganda campaign” aimed at falsely blaming President Bashar Al Assad for chemical attacks.
“It’s completely clear to us the goal is to basically accuse the Syrian government of chemical weapons use where no perpetrators have been identified,” said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.
Russia proposed an amended draft statement that made no mention of the attacks in Eastern Ghouta and stressed that the reports should be “credibly and professionally investigated,” according to the text seen by AFP.
The United States rejected the changes and no statement was adopted, diplomats said.
Haley slammed Russia for balking at a statement that she described as a “simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas.”
Three reported chlorine attacks
The US-drafted statement expressed grave concern over three reported chlorine attacks in Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks and asserted that those responsible for using chemical weapons must be held accountable.
The Russian ambassador said that while Moscow was ready to condemn chemical weapons use, it could not support the draft statement “in its current form” because it pointed the finger of guilt to Damascus.
The council met to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria after Russia used its veto power twice in November to block the renewal of a UN investigative panel tasked with identifying those responsible for the deadly gas attacks.
Russia last month put forward a draft resolution to establish a new investigation but Western diplomats have raised questions about the impartiality of the proposed panel.
“This is not an impartial mechanism. It is a way to whitewash the findings of the latest investigation that Russia desperately wants to bury,” Haley told the council.
The previous probe, vetoed by Russia, had found that Syrian forces were responsible for the April 2016 sarin attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun, that killed scores of people.
The panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), also found that Al Assad’s forces used chlorine in attacks on rebel-held villages in 2014 and 2015.
It also found that Daesh had used mustard gas in 2015.