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14 Jun, 2013 10:05

Moscow unconvinced by US evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use

Moscow unconvinced by US evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use

Russia is not convinced by the evidence which the US provided alleging that the government of Syria’s President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against rebel forces.

“The Americans tried to present us with information on the use of chemical weapons by the regime, but frankly we thought that it was not convincing,” said presidential aide Yury Ushakov on Friday. 

“We wouldn’t like to invoke references to the famous lab tube that [former US] Secretary of State [Colin] Powell showed, but the facts don’t look convincing in our eyes,” he added.

Powell brought a model vial, which he said looked like Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weaponized anthrax, in a bid to convince members of the UN Security Council that they should agree to invade Iraq. The alleged weapons of mass destruction program proved to be non-existent after the US conquered the country in 2003. 

Medics check a woman at a hospital in the northern Aleppo province, as Syria's government accused rebel forces of using chemical weapons for the first time on March 19, 2013. (AFP Photo / SANA)

Ushakov was commenting on the US decision to allow military aid to Syrian rebels after coming to the conclusion that Assad’s government had used its chemical weapons stockpile in the conflict. 

Ushakov said Moscow sees difficulties with organizing a proper investigation into the alleged cases of chemical weapon attacks in Syrian territory, which would provide more conclusive evidence on the issue.

“We have tried on several occasions to organize it, including those occasions when information arrived that rebels were using chemical weapons. Let’s see how the situation develops,” he said.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has once again reiterated the need to look into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, according to an official statement.

The UN probe into the use of chemical weapons in Syria did not travel to the sites of the alleged attacks because Damascus barred the experts from going there. Syrian officials cited concerns for the safety of the experts and voiced doubts about their impartiality, since neither China nor Russia were allowed to participate. 

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has stressed that arming rebels is a step fraught with possible “escalation in the region” while allegations of the use of chemical weapons “are not supported by reliable evidence”.

Moscow has warned that additional supplies to Syrian rebels will not contribute to the peace process, but on the contrary will plunge the country into chaos.

“There is little doubt that decisions on additional arms and military equipment supplies to illegal militant groups would drive up the level of violent confrontation and violence against innocent civilians. Especially, given that it comes amid calls to go further, to establish a no-fly zone over Syria to help not with just weapons, but heavy weapons,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich said.

The American move undermines the joint US-Russian effort to gather an international conference in Geneva on Syrian reconciliation, Ushakov added, although the exact damage will depend on Washington’s further actions.

“Of course, this will not help in the preparation of the international conference, if the Americans actually initiate larger-scale support of the rebels", he said.

The next meeting of experts to discuss the event is scheduled for June 25. The conference has been postponed several times as the organizers are struggling to convince all interested parties to take part. 

The aide added that the news will not affect Russia’s position on delivering S-300 surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian government. Moscow has a years-long standing contract with Damascus to supply the advanced air defense system, but has not fulfilled it yet.

Russia’s contract with Syria may have a serious impact on the balance of military power in the region. One of the more radical scenarios of the US providing military aid to the rebels is establishment of non-fly zones in Syria along its border with Jordan. The territory would then be used by rebel forces to rest and regroup out of reach of the Syrian Air Force.