Russia to cooperate with US over Syrian gas probe

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Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, during a summit on Aug. 6. File photo

Russia will work with the United States on a response after a UN investigation found that the Syrian regime had carried out chemical attacks, Moscow’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Thursday.

“We have a joint interest in discouraging such things from happening, preventing such things from happening even in the fog of war,” Churkin told reporters.

Meanwhile, France’s foreign minister urged on Thursday that the Security Council had to respond firmly after a UN probe found that Syrian government troops were responsible for two toxic gas attacks.

“The use of chemical weapons, which the Syrian authorities agreed to ban in 2013 under international pressure … is an abomination that highlights the damning role played by the Damascus regime in the worsening situation in Syria,” Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement.

A joint investigation by the United Nations and the global chemical weapons watchdog also found that ISIS militants had used sulphur mustard gas, according to a confidential report seen by Reuters.

“France calls for a response that measures the seriousness of this. The Security Council must not shirk its responsibilities and France is already working with its partners” on the matter, Ayrault said.

The results set the stage for a Security Council showdown between the five veto-wielding powers, likely pitting Russia and China against the United States, Britain and France over whether sanctions should be imposed in the wake of the inquiry.

French diplomatic sources said Paris wanted to use the chemical weapons report to push for a resolution at the Security Council that would force Russia, the key backer to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to accept that its ally had used banned weapons and as a result would use its influence to back a credible ceasefire across the country.

“We need to use this report to force Russia out of its ambiguity. If they were to veto such a resolution they would need to justify the use of chemical weapons,” one senior diplomat said.

The 15-member Security Council is due to discuss the report next week. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the report would be made public after that meeting.

On Wednesday, the White House said it was “impossible to deny” that Syria had launched chemical weapon attacks, while calling for Assad’s regime to be held accountable.

“It is now impossible to deny that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.

“The United States will work with our international partners to seek accountability through appropriate diplomatic mechanisms, including through the United Nations Security Council.”

Price said the findings “present yet another opportunity for all nations to speak with one voice to address these heinous crimes and to make it clear that the use of chemical weapons is intolerable.” That is likely to be seen as a veiled message to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, among others.

President Barack Obama recently warned Russia it faces fierce international rebuke if it continues to make common cause with Syria’s brutal regime. The White House is turning up the diplomatic heat as Putin prepares to travel to the G20 in China and UN General Assembly in New York in the coming weeks.

Agencies 

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