According to Foreign Policy Magazine, UN weapons inspectors intend to accuse Syrian president Bashar al-Assad of responsibility for the gas attack that killed some 1,400 civilians in August. The drawback is that they can only offer circumstantial evidence on the case, according to insiders.
Western officials are saying the UN team has collected a “wealth” of evidence confirming that nerve agents were used in the attack on the al Ghouta suburb of Damascus. So we know it wasn’t a faked event, as the Syrians and the Iranians have been saying initially. But will the experts be able to trace the chemicals back to Assad’s henchmen?
The Iranians and the Russians, most notably President Vladimir Putin in a NY Times op-ed today (A Plea for Caution From Russia), still insist on blaming the rebels for the attack.
Putin writes: “No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.”
The highly anticipated report on the inspectors findings will be presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday. But UN diplomats are saying the report will not directly accuse Assad.
It will, however, present a strong circumstantial case that the Assad regime was responsible, based on analysis of rocket shells, ammunition and tests on soil, blood and urine from the attack.
“I know they have gotten very rich samples — biomedical and environmental — and they have interviewed victims, doctors and nurses," said the Western official. It seems they are very happy with the wealth of evidence they got,” a UN official told Foreign magazine. But the team could not identify the specific agents detected by the inspector team, but said, “You can conclude from the type of evidence the [identity of the] author.”
Syria and Russia have highlighted several other alleged chemical weapons attacks against Syrian government forces. The Syrians initially requested that the UN inspectors investigate an alleged March 19 sarin attack in the town of Khan al Assal, near Aleppo. Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar al Jaafari also requested that the team inspect three other cases of alleged chemical weapons use in late August against Syrian forces. On their final day in Damascus, the team visited a military hospital in Damascus to examine alleged victims of rebel chemical weapons attacks.
Sellström’s team is planning to return to Damascus at a later date to complete its investigations into the other incidents, including the March incident at Khan al Assal.
Under the terms of its Security Council mandate, the UN inspectors are only authorized to conclude whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and they may not assign responsibility for said use.
On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem admitted in a statement that his country operated a clandestine chemical weapons program, and promised to make them available to international inspectors, as part of the Russian sponsored deal whereby the Syrians would hand over their chemical stash in exchange to not being bombed by the U.S. Moallem said: “We are ready to reveal the locations of the chemical weapon sites and to stop producing chemical weapons and make these sites available for inspection by representatives of Russia, other countries and the United Nations.”
And while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are planning to meet in Geneva to try and reach an agreement on a plan to collect and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, American talking heads have been debating whether this was a win or a loss to the Obama team. It appears the right, on Fox News, thinks this has been the most abysmal failure since Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer inspected Sitting Bull in Little Bighorn. The left, everywhere else on Television, thinks the best thing about it so far is the fact that it’s been bloodless. Well, bloodless if you’re an American.
According to Israel Radio, sources close to the Syrian president are saying they expect a deal would be reached in October, should the two foreign ministers agree on it today, in Geneva. Meanwhile, the rebels, who feel a little abandoned, understandably, are warning the Syrians will take advantage of the lull in the pressure on them, and move their chemical stash to Iraq.
Oh, Iraqis and chemical weapons… don’t get me started…