UN to vote on last-ditch bid to save Syria gas attacks probe after Russian veto

Russia vetoed on Friday a Japanese-drafted UN Security Council resolution to extend by one month an international inquiry into who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
An unconscious child receiving treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Syria.
An unconscious child receiving treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Syria.PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The United Nations Security Council will vote on Friday (Nov 17) on a last-ditch bid to salvage a UN-led investigation tasked with identifying those behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria, a day after Russia vetoed the panel's renewal.

The council will vote at 6.15pm (7.15am on Saturday, Singapore time) on a Japanese draft resolution that would extend the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for 30 days, to allow time for negotiations on a compromise.

During a closed-door meeting to discuss the monthlong renewal, Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said Moscow "will not accept the Japanese draft," according to a diplomat attending the closed session.

In Moscow, a senior foreign ministry official said the 30-day technical rollover was pointless and that there was no need to take urgent action on the fate of the panel.

"We don't see the point of a technical rollover," Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the non-proliferation department at the foreign ministry, told RIA Novosti news agency.

"We can have consultations and if these turn out to be productive, then in some time, maybe not too far off, the Security Council can take a decision to renew the activities of the JIM," he added.

"For the time being, there is absolutely no reason to rush." Russia has strongly criticized the JIM after its latest report blamed the Syrian air force for a sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun that left scores dead.

The April 4 attack triggered global outrage as images of dying children were shown worldwide, prompting the United States to launch missile strikes on a Syrian air base days later.

Syria has denied using chemical weapons, with backing from its main ally Russia.

AVOIDING JIM'S END

The Japanese proposal came after a Russian veto - Moscow's 10th on Syria - while a separate Russian draft resolution failed to garner enough votes for adoption, leaving the JIM's fate in limbo.

"This is a way to avoid the death of the JIM, a way to give us time to think seriously about a lasting solution," French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters on the Japanese proposal.

It remained unclear whether Moscow would again use its veto to block the measure.

The Japanese draft resolution would task UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with submitting to the council in 20 days "proposals for the structure and methodology" of the panel.

Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko said he was not optimistic, declaring that the panel "was already dead yesterday" when Russia vetoed the renewal.

After the Russian veto, US Ambassador Nikki Haley accused Moscow of dealing a "deep blow" to international efforts to deter chemical attacks and said it bodes ill for Russia's future role in Syrian peace efforts.

"How then can we trust Russia's supposed support for peace in Syria? How can anyone take Russia's proposal of political talks in Sochi seriously?" she asked.

The United Nations is preparing a new round of peace talks to open on Nov 28 in Geneva, but Russia has proposed hosting negotiations in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The joint UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) panel was set up by Russia and the United States in 2015 and unanimously endorsed by the council, which renewed its mandate last year.

Previous reports by the JIM have found that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group used mustard gas in 2015.