The United Nations needs time to examine the “entire body of evidence” its inspectors collected before reaching conclusions on Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, according to Martin Nesirky, spokesman for the UN's secretary-general.
The world body is “uniquely capable” of conducting an “impartial, credible” report, Nesirky told reporters today in New York, after investigators completed a 14-day visit and left Syria.
A team of 13 UN scientists arrived in The Hague today after four days collecting evidence at a site outside Damascus that must be analyzed before they submit a report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Nesirky said. The UN won’t provide a timetable for its final report, he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that the U.S. already has clear evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 and wouldn’t wait for the UN report to act against Syria.
Today, President Barack Obama said he will seek authorization from Congress before taking planned military action, raising the possibility that the UN report will come out while Congress is debating the issue.
Ban yesterday told envoys of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China -- that the report may take as long as two weeks to prepare due to the required lab work, said two western diplomats who weren’t authorized to comment and asked not to be identified.
The scientists will deliver the “biomedical and environmental” samples to two laboratories in Europe to establish a chain of custody for the evidence, Nesirky said yesterday.
In today’s briefing, Nesirky called it “grotesque and also an affront” to view the departure of the chemical weapons inspectors as opening a “window for military action of some kind.” More than 1,000 UN employees remain in Syria and will continue humanitarian aid work there, he added.
Because the U.S. has already established that chemical weapons were used, “the UN can’t tell us anything that we haven’t shared with you this afternoon or that we don’t already know,” Kerry told reporters yesterday in presenting American intelligence findings that the weapons were used and Assad’s regime was responsible.
Assad’s regime has denied using chemical arms, and asked Ban on Aug. 28 to authorize an additional UN investigation into what it claims were three chemical weapons attacks by rebels against government soldiers.
Inspectors visited a government military hospital near Damascus yesterday to evaluate information submitted by the Assad administration on the alleged attacks, according to Nesirky. He said Ban hasn’t decided whether he will approve an additional probe.
Angela Kane, the UN’s disarmament chief, today briefed Ban for an hour on the current status of the chemical-arms investigation, and they are doing “whatever can be done to speed up the process,” Nesirky said.