(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley laid into Russia in the Security Council on Tuesday, accusing Moscow of complicity in the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian citizens.
In a scathing statement Haley slammed Russia – which earlier used its veto to shut down a mechanism set up by the council to investigate chemical weapons (CW) attacks in Syria – for now wanting to set up a new body.
“Russia has the audacity to lecture this Security Council about how to stop the use of chemical weapons,” she said. “In the past year, Russia used its veto three times – three times – to kill the Joint Investigative Mechanism in Syria … the mechanism we had specifically tasked to identify those responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria.”
Noting that just this week dozens of citizens including children had to be treated for suffocation after a suspected chlorine attack in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta, Haley observed that the attack had occurred – as have others – in an area which Assad regime forces are trying to recapture from rebels.
“We know the Assad regime resorts to these brutal tactics when they want to re-take territory, without any regard for innocent civilians,” she told the council in New York.
“And we know that for years Russia has looked the other way while their Syrian friends use these despicable weapons of war,” Haley continued, as her Russian counterpart Vasily Nebenzya shuffled papers and took the occasional note.
“Russia is complicit in the Assad regime’s atrocities,” she charged. “Will the Russian Federation say anything at all today about the suffering caused by Assad’s barbaric tactics? Will they hold Assad to account? Of course not – they never do.”
Russia called Tuesday’s session to introduce a draft resolution calling for the establishment of a new structure which, Nebenzya said, would investigate alleged CW use in Syria “on the basis of scrupulous and incontestable evidence.”
The Kremlin has long claimed that the now-defunct Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) had become discredited and a tool of political manipulation by anti-Assad parties.
Before its mandate expired late last year – thanks to Russia’s veto – the JIM issued six reports in which it held the Assad regime responsible for several CW attacks. They included the use of the deadly nerve agent sarin on April 4 last year – the attack that prompted President Trump to order a punitive cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase.
The JIM also accused ISIS jihadists of using sulphur mustard gas elsewhere in Syria.
Nebenzya said Tuesday Russia is proposing a “professional and de-politicized” mechanism in contrast to the JIM.
But Haley gave no quarter.
“When [JIM] investigators found ISIS to be responsible, Russia was fine,” she said. “When the investigators found that the Assad regime used them, Russia tried to find any excuse to poke holes in the investigation and threw up smoke to question the findings.”
“But that is not how independent investigations work. You don’t get to question the findings when they don’t go your way.”
Haley said the U.S. would not accept Moscow’s new proposal.
If the Russians wanted to work in good faith towards the goal of an independent and impartial investigation, she said, “we are ready to re-establish the JIM, with its original independent and impartial mandate, right now.”
“But anything less is unacceptable.”
Tillerson: ‘Russia ultimately bears responsibility’
In Paris, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also spoke about the latest chlorine gas attack.
“Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria,” he said.
In the fall of 2013, weeks after more than 1,400 Syrians had been killed in a chemical attack in the same area blamed on the regime, Russia brokered a deal with the Obama administration that saw Assad surrender his declared CW stockpile. (Part of the infamous “red line” episode, the agreement averted President Obama’s promised airstrikes against Assad.)
Tillerson recalled Tuesday that under that 2013 agreement, “Russia assumed responsibility as guarantor for ensuring that its Syrian allies cease all use of chemical weapons and fully declare its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction under international oversight.”
Instead, he said, there has been mounting evidence since 2014 of continuing regime CW possession and use against its own people.
“There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the United States as a framework guarantor.”
In Paris, the U.S. and more than two dozen other countries signed onto a new initiative aimed at countering impunity for the use of chemical weapons.
In denying regime responsibility for CW use such as the sarin attack last April, Russia and Assad claimed that the deadly gas was likely released after a rebel gas storage facility was bombed – and even charged that the episode was cynically staged, in a ploy to attract U.S. military intervention.