Russia Says Syria Invited Chemical Weapons Experts to Idlib

Russia called for international inspectors to visit Idlib, where the U.S. accused Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad of carrying out a deadly chemical weapons attack against his own citizens.

Syria’s government invited the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to visit the site of the April 4 incident and the airbase that the U.S. later bombed, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Representatives of United Nations Security Council members, the European Union and the Middle East should travel with OPCW inspectors to ensure a “transparent” investigation, he said at a meeting with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed Al Thani Saturday in Moscow.

Sergei Lavrov and Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the OPCW.

Photographer: Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered cruise-missile strikes on an airbase in Syria last week, and his administration accused Russia was helping to cover up Assad’s role in the chemical-weapons attack. The Kremlin contended the chemicals were under the control of terrorists, while Lavrov said Friday he sees “growing evidence” that the incident was staged. Russia hasn’t publicly provided any proof to back that up.

“Within the framework of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN, we will insist on the immediate dispatch of inspectors both to the site of the incident and the airbase where our western colleagues claim missiles were loaded with chemical substances,” Lavrov said.

The OPCW reported to the United Nations last year that its inspectors detected the presence of previously undeclared chemical warfare agents in Syria. The group had earlier certified that Syria disposed of its stockpiles and was dismantling product facilities under a deal Russia helped broker with the U.S. in 2013.

While Lavrov, who met with his Iranian and Syrian counterparts Friday, called for an “independent investigation,” Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Wednesday that demanded the Syrian government cooperate with an inquiry into the suspected sarin-gas attack that killed dozens of people.

The crisis dominated U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first meeting in his new role with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. The Kremlin has rebuffed U.S. demands to abandon its ally Assad. Putin’s military backing of Assad has been crucial in keeping the regime in power after six years of civil war.

While Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said the U.S. didn’t provide evidence that Assad was responsible for the April 4 attack in Idlib, officials in Washington on Tuesday published a four-page document containing satellite images, reports from the scene and details of exposure gathered from victims.

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