U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Monday criticized Russian efforts to "whitewash" the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons.
Haley said at a U.N. Security Council meeting that reports of a chlorine gas attack on Sunday followed "a troubling pattern" in Syria, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly used chemical weapons on his own people. She laid out expectations for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal under the Chemical Weapons Convention and U.N. Security Council resolution 2118, but implicated Russia in protecting Assad.
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"It's a true tragedy that Russia has sent us back to square one in the effort to end chemical weapons use in Syria," Haley said. "But we will not cease in our efforts to know the truth of the Assad regime and ensure that truth is known and acted on by the international community."
She argued that Russia's actions to prevent accountability is detrimental to the U.N.'s credibility.
"So what do the American people see? What do people of all countries see?" Haley asked. "They see a council that can't agree to take action, even after the investigative mechanism created by this council found that the Assad regime used chemical weapons."
She said evidence of dozens of victims in the latest attack led the U.S. to propose a statement condemning it, but Russia has delayed the statement.
"So far Russia has delayed the adoption of this statement—a simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas," she said. "I hope Russia takes the appropriate step to adopt this text, showing the council is unified in condemning chemical weapons attacks."
The council had previously created the Joint Investigative Mechanism in 2015 to look into chemical weapons use in Syria, but Haley criticized Russia for "ignoring" the mechanism's findings in its response.
"For their new investigation, Russia wants to be able to cherry-pick the investigators," she said. "It wants to insert unnecessary and arbitrary investigative standards. And it wants the Security Council to be able to review all of the findings of this investigation and decide what makes it into the final report. This is not an impartial mechanism. It is a way to whitewash the findings of the last investigation that Russia desperately wants to bury."
Haley said the ultimate goal is to stop the use of chemical weapons but called on the U.N. to take the first step by identifying and punishing perpetrators.
"But if we can't even take the first step of establishing accountability for chemical weapons use, we have to seriously ask ourselves why we are here," she said.
In light of Russia stymying repeated attempts to hold Assad accountable, Haley expressed support for an independent mechanism to determine when crimes are committed in Syria.
"The United States has also announced that we will contribute to the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism on international crimes committed in Syria—the IIIM. The United States strongly supports the IIIM as a valuable tool to hold the Assad regime accountable for its atrocities, including its repeated and ongoing use of chemical weapons," she said.