U.S., Russia Feud over Syria Chemical Weapons Inquiry

After a bitter feud between U.S. and Russia, the United Nations Security Council failed on Thursday to renew the mandate of an independent committee investigating chemical-weapon use in Syria, The Wall Street Journal informs.

The Council didn’t pass either of two competing resolutions, one each drafted by the U.S. and Russia, to extend the operations of the committee, known as the U.N.’s Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM. Its mandate, created by the Council in 2015, was set to expire at midnight Thursday.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that the U.S. would act unilaterally in the aftermath of another chemical weapons attack by Syria’s government, as it had in April by striking a Syrian military air base with a missile, The Journal adds.

“To my Russian friends: The next chemical weapons attack will be on your head. By not having a JIM, you are telling the world chemical weapons are okay to use,” Haley said.

The JIM has so far concluded that Syria’s government used chlorine and sarin gas in three attacks, including the April attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed over 100 people and sparked a U.S. military reaction. JIM also reported that the Islamic State terrorist group has used mustard gas in two attacks, The Journal notes. By halting the U.S. resolution, Russia cast its 10th veto on Syria and its fourth on chemical-weapons investigations. Russia’s proposal to renew JIM’s mandate didn’t garner the nine votes required to pass. The war of words between the U.S. and Russia came just days after President Donald Trump said he would work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the crisis in Syria.

However, before the Council session even began, U.S. and Russian officials confronted over whose resolution should receive a vote first. Both sides also argued over the tenor of negotiations; the U.S. said Russia’s mission didn’t answer their phones, but Russia said this wasn’t true.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, had equally harsh words for the U.S. and its allies. The Russian diplomat called the Council meeting “a spectacle” organized to accuse Russia. He compared “endless distortions” about Damascus to erroneous U.S. intelligence preceding the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and he accused the JIM’s independent investigators of following “the instructions of their puppeteers.”

“We would like to remind our U.S. colleagues and those who…supported their unrealistic draft, we would like to remind you that you bear the burden of responsibility if the mechanism cannot be salvaged,” Nebenzia stressed.

The U.S. proposal called for a one-year extension of the JIM to allow investigators to pursue allegations “in a manner they deem appropriate” and in accordance evidence-based fact-finding. Russia’s proposal questioned JIM’s last report on Khan Sheikhoun and said that its conclusions must be re-evaluated with a visit to the affected area, calling for JIM to make use of reports and evidence provided by the Assad government.

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