Russia lifts UN hold on Syria chemical attacks probe: Diplomats

AFP , Friday 11 Sep 2015

File Photo: Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin addresses members of the U.N. Security Council at the U.N. headquarters in New York, March 6, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

Russia has lifted its objections to a UN investigation into chemical attacks in Syria, clearing the way for the probe to begin, diplomats said Thursday.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution August 7 approving a joint investigation by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had followed up by proposing that the mission be entrusted to three independent experts, and asked the Security Council for the go ahead to recruit them.

But Russia, which heads the council in September, delayed in responding.

According to diplomats, Moscow wanted guarantees on several points, notably that the sovereignty of its Syrian ally would be respected and on the mission's financing.

On Wednesday, Ban addressed a letter to Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin giving assurances that the United Nations would "expeditiously consult" with Damascus on an agreement governing how the mission will function and that there be "reasonable grounds" for its demands for access.

The Syrian government is supposed to cooperate fully with the investigators.

In a statement Thursday, Ban said he would "without delay, undertake all steps, measures and arrangements necessary for the speedy establishment and full functioning of the (joint investigative mechanism)."

He did not say when the investigation would begin, but called "on all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic to cooperate fully."

The Russians also wanted the investigators to weigh in on the use of chemical weapons in Iraq by Islamic State militants. But that would require a new resolution and the agreement of the Iraqi government.

IS is suspected of having attacked Kurdish fighters with sarin gas last month in Iraq and in northern Syria.

The United States, Britain and France accuse the Syrian army of carrying out chemical attacks, including several with chlorine gas.

Russia, which has always protected its Syrian ally from its permanent, veto-wielding seat on the Security Council, contends there is no proof against Syria.

Investigators will be charged with determining who is responsible for the attacks, which could lead to their being sanctioned by the Security Council. But any such sanctions would require a new resolution, which Russia could veto.

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