National Security

Russia: U.S. Must Separate Syrian Rebels, Terrorists Before Condemning Assad

AP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday the United States needs to fulfill its commitment to separate moderate Syrian rebel forces from terrorist groups before condemning the Bashar al-Assad regime over a new United Nations report finding Syria has continued chemical weapons attacks against civilians.

"They should look in the mirror and do what they have been promising to do since January—to separate the opposition which they consider loyal from terrorists. They cannot do this, they are either unable to do this or do not want to do it," Lavrov told reporters Thursday, according to Sputnik News.

U.S. officials confirmed Wednesday that the investigation had identified two incidents in which the Syrian government was responsible for chlorine gas attacks against civilians since 2013. Investigators said the Islamic State used mustard gas in a 2015 attack.

International experts investigated nine cases of chemical attacks in Syria over a year-long period, identifying a perpetrator in three incidents while finding inconclusive evidence in the other six cases.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, JIM, released the report to the Security Council Wednesday. The international group will continue its probe into reported chemical weapons use in Syria after receiving 130 new cases of alleged attacks using sarin, chlorine, mustard gas, and nerve gas from December 2015 to August 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Assad vowed in 2013 to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons program after the United States threatened airstrikes against government targets. The OPCW confirmed in the summer of 2014 that Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons had been removed from the country.

The OPCW said its latest findings detail a "troubling pattern of incomplete and inaccurate Syrian disclosures" regarding the scope of the nation’s chemical weapons program.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power denounced Syria’s "horrific and continuous use of chemical weapons" in a statement released Wednesday.

"The world has rejected the use of chemical weapons as a barbaric tool, repugnant to the conscience of mankind," Power said. "It is essential that the members of the Security Council come together to ensure consequences for those who have used chemical weapons in Syria."

The Security Council is set to meet next week to debate action against the Syrian government that diplomats said could include a statement of condemnation, a referral to the International Criminal Court, or added sanctions.

The results of the probe could set up a showdown among the Security Council’s five permanent members that hold veto powers, particularly between the United States and Russia, which is allied with the Assad regime.

Syria has been in mired in a five-year civil war dating back to March 2011. President Obama said in 2012 that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would constitute a "red line" provoking U.S. military force, but instead used diplomatic channels to reach a disarmament deal with Russia and Syria.

Obama has since refused to conduct airstrikes against the Assad regime. The administration reached an agreement with President Vladimir Putin last month to coordinate operations between against al Nusra, al-Qaeda’s arm in Syria that is primarily staging attacks against Assad’s government.