DAMASCUS (AFP) – Damascus and key ally Moscow joined forces on Wednesday in a bid to thwart plans for a Western-backed UN resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons that allows the use of force.
Russia came out swinging, saying the Syrian regime had handed over new evidence implicating the rebels in an August 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus that killed hundreds, while slamming a UN report into the incident as “biased.”
Syria, boosted by a visit to Damascus by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, thanked Moscow for its support and said it was confident the UN would not adopt a Chapter VII resolution that would allow the use of force.
The twin-pronged diplomatic counter-offensive came as UN chemical weapons inspectors confirmed they would be returning to Syria for additional investigations into the use of the deadly weapons in the country’s conflict.
Russia and the United States continued to trade accusations about who was to blame for the sarin attack that the chemical weapons inspectors confirmed in a report this week.
Despite having jointly agreed a deal under which Syria will turn over its chemical weapons stock, the two nations remain at loggerheads over who carried out the attack.
Russia says the Syrian regime had handed over new evidence implicating the rebels in the deadly incident.
But U.S. President Barack Obama has said it was “inconceivable” that anyone other than the Syrian regime could have carried out the attack.
The international community is also divided over the wording of a UN Security Council resolution on the U.S.-Russian deal, with Moscow strongly opposing a Chapter VII resolution.
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad, told AFP on Wednesday that Damascus was confident the UN would not adopt a Chapter VII resolution.
“I think this is a big lie used by the Western powers; we believe it will never be used,” he said in Damascus.
“There is no justification for that, and the Russian-American agreement does not have such a thing,” he added.
France and Britain are reportedly preparing a draft resolution including a demand for action under Chapter VII — which allows the use of force and tough sanctions — if Syria fails to uphold the deal on its chemical weapons.
But Russia has said there was “no basis” for a UN resolution to invoke Chapter VII.
Muqdad also insisted that rebels were behind the August 21 attack, saying the Syrian government would never use chemical weapons against its own people.
The UN inspectors’ report “has nothing new for us, because from the beginning we said sarin gas was used,” he said.
“We gave concrete reports, authenticated by our medical persons and our experts on chemicals. I can confirm once again that Syria did not, will not use chemical weapons against its people,” he added.
Russia’s Ryabkov met in Damascus Wednesday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who thanked Moscow for its support throughout his regime’s conflict with armed rebels that broke out in March 2011.
“President Assad expressed… his gratitude to Russia for its position of helping Syria face down the savage attack… and the Western, regional and Arab-backed terrorism,” state television quoted him as saying.
“Russia’s positions on the Syrian crisis create hope of a new global balance,” Assad added.
A day earlier, Ryabkov said Syria had handed over new evidence showing opposition forces were behind the sarin attack, a claim met with scepticism by much of the international community.
He also said Russia was disappointed with the UN inspectors’ report on the attack, describing it as selective for having ignored other alleged attacks.
“Without a full picture… we cannot describe the character of the conclusions as anything other than politicized, biased and one-sided,” Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.
France rejected the claims of bias on Wednesday, saying “nobody can question of the objectivity of the people appointed by the UN.”
UN chief inspector Ake Sellstrom meanwhile told AFP that his team would be returning to Syria to investigate additional alleged attacks.
“Our planning isn’t finished yet, so I can’t say when we will be going, but it will be soon,” he said.
“There have been other accusations presented to the UN secretary general, dating back to March, against both sides” in the conflict, he said.
There were 13 or 14 accusations that “have to be investigated”, he added.
The deal under which Syria will turn over its chemical weapons came after Washington threatened to take military action against Damascus in response to last month’s chemical attack.
The agreement has halted talk of military action for now, but NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday that the threat of military action should remain to ensure Syria keeps its promises to give up chemical weapons.
The 30-month long conflict in Syria has killed more than 110,000 people, according to rights groups, and several million refugees have flooded countries in the region and beyond.