Chemical arms watchdog politically biased over Syria: Russia
The April 4 attack on the rebel-held Syrian village of Khan Sheikhun killed more than 80 people and triggered global outrage. Photograph: (Zee News Network)
Russia launched a scathing attack Tuesday on the global chemical weapons watchdog, accusing it of bias in its probe into the Khan Sheikhun gas attack in Syria earlier this year.
In a speech to the annual gathering of the members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Moscow's representative lashed what he called "unprofessional and politically-biased working methods" by the body's inspectors.
This "probably came down from an order on high where some of the Western countries wanted their own version of the bombing in Khan Sheikhun with chemical weapons," said Georgy Kalamanov, Russia's deputy minister of trade and industry.
The April 4 attack on the opposition-held Syrian village triggered global outrage as images of dying children were shown worldwide. More than 80 people died, and the United States just days later launched missile strikes on a Syrian airbase.
A joint OPCW and UN body, known as the joint mechanism or JIM, has found that it was the Syrian air force that dropped sarin gas on Khan Sheikhun.
But that finding has been fiercely contested by Damascus.
Russia has also rejected the investigation as flawed because the experts did not travel to Khan Sheikhun and said inspectors relied on witnesses that it says were linked to the opposition of President Bashar al-Assad.
It has called for the investigation to be put aside and for a new one to be carried out. Moscow has also twice used its power of veto at the UN Security Council to block the renewal of the JIM.
Syria was being hit by "unfounded accusations" of chemical weapons use even though for years it "has been combatting terrorism and extremism that has been sponsored from outside," said Kalamanov, adding that was a "double standard" which is only "undermining the credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW."
The issue of Syria has dominated the annual talks in The Hague of the 192 countries which have ratified the arms treaty, which commits all member states to rid the world of chemical weapons.
Many delegates have bemoaned the lack of condemnation of Syria, which joined the convention in 2013 under Russia and US pressure, at the OPCW.
"Chemical weapons use by the Syrian Arab Republic remains the most serious violation of the CWC in the convention’s 20-year history and the greatest modern challenge to the global norm against chemical weapons use," said top US official Andrea Hall.
France insists "we cannot accept that a member state to the OPCW has violated our convention by using chemical weapons and does not accept its responsibilities," said French ambassador Philippe Lalliot.
The JIM, set up two years ago, has also concluded that Syrian regime forces were behind two chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015, while the so-called Islamic State jihadist group used mustard gas in 2015.
The debate at the OPCW headquarters comes as UN-backed talks on ending the six-year civil war in Syria resumed in Geneva.