Russian Federation and U.S. at odds over keeping Syria chemical experts

Washington and Moscow have presented rival draft resolutions on renewing for a year the mandate of the UN-backed Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which is tasked with identifying who is responsible for the many chemical attacks that have been perpetrated throughout the war.

Russian Federation and the USA have failed to resolve a dispute over extending the mandate of a UN-backed investigative team that blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces for a chemical weapons attack in April that killed more than 80 people.

Earlier Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave his clearest indication yet that Moscow was prepared to veto the US-drafted measure extending the panel for one year.

Two days ago, he said, the North American Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, affirmed that there is a resolution of the UN Security Council that allows his country to maintain troops on Syrian soil. The mandate of the current investigative mission expires on Thursday.

It would mark the tenth time that Moscow has used its veto power at the council to block action targeting its ally Syria.

Before the voting, Russia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya said Russian Federation was withdrawing its draft as the Security Council had refused to satisfy Moscow's request to consider the USA draft first.

The Russian draft, by contrast, requests the JIM to visit Khan Sheikhoun and re-evaluate its findings.

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Russia's deputy ambassador to the U.N., Vladimir Safronkov, dismissed the JIM's findings about Khan Sheikhoun as "mythical or invented", asking how Syria could be blamed since investigators never visited the town or the air base where the sarin attack was claimed to have been launched.

In its draft, Russian Federation insisted that the panel's findings on Khan Sheikhun be put aside to allow for another "full-scale and high-quality investigation" by the JIM, which would be extended for a year.

The statement comes as a joint global inquiry by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is set to expire Thursday.

Previous reports by the JIM have found that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that the Islamic State (IS) militant group used mustard gas in 2015.

The White House in June cautioned against another possible chemical weapons strike in Syria, warning that the Assad government would "pay a heavy price" for it.

Russia, Syria's ally on the Security Council, has put forward its own draft resolution rejecting the findings of the 26-member United Nations panel, a proposal that has little chance of passage.


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