Russia Vetoes U.S. Plan to Extend UN Syria Chemical Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Spurning a last-minute appeal from U.S. President Donald Trump, Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have extended the run of an investigative team that blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people.

Russia used its veto in the United Nations Security Council for the 10th time to defend its ally Assad in the six-year civil war that’s claimed more than half a million Syrian lives. Trump’s stance put him at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he’s sought better relations despite the continuing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

“Need all on the UN Security Council to vote to renew the Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria to ensure that Assad Regime does not commit mass murder with chemical weapons ever again,” Trump said in a tweet hours before the vote on Thursday as the U.S. and allies sought to avert a Russian veto.

The U.S. resolution received 11 votes in favor, with China and Egypt abstaining and Bolivia joining Russian in opposition. Russia withdrew its own resolution rejecting the panel’s findings after it lost a procedural vote. Bolivia then reintroduced it at the end of the day’s session, to the fury of the U.S. delegation. The Russian-backed resolution was defeated with only four votes in favor.

In its report in October, the investigative panel blamed Assad’s air force for the sarin gas attack on April 4 on a rebel-held village, which left scores dead and 300 injured.

Haley’s Warning

The attack triggered global outrage as images of dying children were broadcast worldwide, and it prompted Trump’s first major use of military power against Syria a few days later. He ordered a predawn missile strike aimed at planes, ammunition, fuel depots and air-defense systems at a Syrian airfield.

“We revised our resolution three times to incorporate Russian concerns,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said at the Security Council Thursday. “Russia didn’t hold a single consultation on their draft.”

Haley said the U.S. puts the Assad regime “on clear notice” that it will take military action again if further chemical attacks are launched. “The U.S. does not accept Syria’s use of chemical weapons.”

Russia Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the investigative report deeply flawed and tainted by Western political pressure to vilify the Syrian government. He suggested Western powers had used similar flawed reports to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 military intervention in Libya.

‘Erroneous’ Findings

“From the very outset the report was erroneous,” Nebenzia said. “The testimony from our Russian experts is at odds with” the panel’s findings.

In October, Russia vetoed an earlier resolution to extend the panel’s duration, arguing against such a move before the release of the report.

Among ambassadors denouncing Russia’s position was Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, who said the veto “deprives the international community of a crucial tool to fight impunity in some of the most heinous and unacceptable crimes committed in Syria.”

In June, investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the April attack probably involved the use of sarin, a lethal nerve agent, or similar toxic weapons. But that agency isn’t authorized to conclude who was responsible for the use of banned chemicals.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism panel was created by Russia and the U.S. in 2015 and unanimously endorsed by the council to determine responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.