US condemns Russia veto of probe into Syria chemical weapons use

Russia cast a veto at the United Nations Security Council against renewing a mandate to continue an investigation into who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons during Syria's civil war, on Oct 24, 2017.
Russia cast a veto at the United Nations Security Council against renewing a mandate to continue an investigation into who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons during Syria's civil war, on Oct 24, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - The United States is "very disappointed" that Russia on Tuesday (Oct 24) cast a veto at the United Nations Security Council against renewing a mandate to continue an investigation into who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons during Syria's civil war.

"We are disappointed, we are very disappointed that Russia put what it considered to be political considerations over the Syrian people who were so brutally murdered," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a regular briefing.

Russia blocked the US-sponsored resolution that would extend the life of a panel investigating who has committed chemical weapons assaults in the war, in a session punctuated by Cold War-era acrimony.

The outcome undermined one of the few areas of international cooperation in seeking accountability for atrocities committed in the Syria war and cast fresh doubt on whether users of chemical weapons in the conflict will ever be held to account. The use of such weapons is a war crime.

Both sides accused each other of cynicism and dishonesty in acidic exchanges before and after the vote on the resolution, which was vetoed by Russia using its power as a permanent Security Council member.

It was the ninth time Russia had exercised its veto at the Security Council to block a resolution concerning the nearly seven-year-old conflict in Syria. Russia is the Syrian government's most important ally.

The Russians had argued that a vote for a one-year extension of the panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, should not be held until after its report, due Thursday, on who was responsible for a deadly sarin nerve agent attack on April 4 in the northern Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun, which is held by insurgents.

The United States, Britain and France have said the air force of President Bashar Assad of Syria carried out that attack. President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on the Syrian airfield where the Americans said the attack had originated, infuriating Russia and Syria.

Russia and Syria initially said that the sarin attack might have been fabricated, then suggested that insurgents on the ground were responsible. The Joint Investigative Mechanism's conclusions are not yet known, but there is no dispute that sarin was used.

Eleven countries voted in favour, Russia and Bolivia opposed it, and China and Kazakhstan abstained. Russia's no-vote automatically doomed the resolution.

US ambassador, Nikki Haley, released a statement saying: "Russia has once again demonstrated it will do whatever it takes to ensure the barbaric Assad regime never faces consequences for its continued use of chemicals as weapons." The outcome does not necessarily threaten the panel's continued existence. But without a new Security Council resolution to extend its mandate beyond mid-November, the panel will cease functioning in roughly three weeks.