UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. inspectors’ report on chemical weapons use in Syria was handed by the head of the mission, Professor Ake Sellstrom, on Sunday to the Secretary-General at his residence in New York, but limited details of the report were made public inadvertently with the publication of a photo showing its cover in close enough detail to read the writing.
As those details emerge, diplomats at the U.N. say the report already appears to be shifting the thinking about whether a use-of-force clause should be included in the U.N. resolution being negotiated this week in New York based on the groundbreaking framework agreement announced Saturday by Russia and the U.S. to identify Syria’s chemical weapons, place them under control of the international community.
The framework states that the U.S. and Russia agree that, in the event of non-compliance by Syria, including the unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the Security Council “should impose” measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.
The U.N. weapons report was being distributed to all 193 member states of the General Assembly Monday morning, including the 15 members of the Security Council, and was to be made public later in the morning after the Secretary General and Sellstrom brief the Council on its findings.
But the Letter of Transmittal from The Hague, dated Sept. 13, 2013, was visible in photos released by the U.N. of Sellstrom handing the document over to Ban.
“The conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab republic,” the report’s cover says.
A closeup shot of the letter handed by Aka Sellstrom to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at Ban's residence in New York City.
“In particular,” it states that the “samples we have collected, provide clear and convincing evidence” that “rockets containing the nerve agent sarin was used” in several locations in the Ghouta area of Damascus,” referring to a poison gas attack in the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital on Aug. 21, which prompted the United States, France and other nations to call for military strikes against the Syrian regime.
With the evidence of the report in hand, diplomats from the U.S., U.K. and France now say that accountability needs to be a part of the U.N. action—either in the form of an International Criminal Court referral in the resolution, or as part of an international conference which U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is negotiating.
“The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments,” said Kerry in Geneva, as he worked on the framework agreement with Russia.
On Monday, Kerry’s language grew more adamant: “The framework purely commits the United States and Russia to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter in the event of non-compliance.”
The language reflected Russia’s opposition to a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force, but alludes to the possibility of a second resolution, if Syria did not comply. The ambiguity of the language also left wiggle room, however, for the Security Council to put the language of Chapter 7 within the first resolution, as an automatic trigger, if Syria fails to comply with the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which will oversee the destruction of the chemical stockpiles.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has said it was rebel forces that fired the toxic gas into Ghouta on Aug. 21, not his own forces. Russia has also suggested that possibility, but called for firm evidence. The Obama administration and many of its allies have concluded that only Assad’s military could have been behind the attack, which the White House says left more than 1,400 people dead.
The U.N. inspectors’ mandate was to determine only if chemical weapons had been used, and if so which ones, not to assign guilt for the attack to one side or the other. However, evidence of the specific delivery systems and composition of the toxic chemicals used in Ghouta from the U.N. inspectors could prove key to convincing a skeptical Russia that Assad was behind the attack.