WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States accused Russia of ignoring the facts surrounding a poison gas attack in Syria on Tuesday, highlighting tensions between the West and Moscow over how to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons.
Despite a weekend agreement between the Cold War rivals aimed at dismantling Syria’s chemical arsenal by mid-2014, the two sides remain poles apart in their assessment of the August 21 gas attack which left hundreds dead.
Russia insists the attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta was a “provocation” by opponents fighting Syria President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime designed to trigger military strikes by the United States.
The United States and France maintain that the attack was carried out by Syrian government forces, and believe an assessment by UN experts released on Monday backed their view.
On Tuesday, after meeting French counterpart Laurent Fabius in Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated Moscow’s allegation that the August 21 attack was carried out by Syrian rebels.
Lavrov said the UN report “proves that chemical weapons were used” but not that the Assad regime was behind it.
“There is still no answer to the question of where the missile as produced,” he said.
Russia still has “most serious basis to believe that this was a provocation,” Lavrov said of the attack.
He called on world powers not to “play up emotions” when making decisions, but rather “rely on professionals.”
The United States dismissed Lavrov’s comments emphatically, however, exposing the entrenched differences between the West and Moscow.
“He’s swimming against the tide of international public opinion, but more importantly, the facts,” said US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Psaki said the UN report, “confirms unequivocally that chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, were used in Syria. We all know that. But based on our preliminary view of information contained in the report, several crucial details confirmed the Assad regime’s guilt in carrying out this attack.”
Earlier, Fabius said a “difference in approach” existed between France and Russia on the methods required to reach peace but the two sides were “perfectly agreed” on the need for a political solution.