Russia, U.S. at Odds Before Vote on Syria Chemical Weapons Team

  • UN panel’s mandate ends Thursday with no decision in sight
  • Russia rejects blaming Assad for attack that killed 80 people

Vassily Nebenzia votes not to extend investigations into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria at the United Nations on Oct. 24, 2017. 

Photographer: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Russia and the U.S. have failed to resolve a dispute over extending the mandate of a UN-backed investigative team that blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for a chemical weapons attack in April that killed more than 80 people.

The continuing dispute means that the United Nations Security Council may deadlock over the issue in a vote planned for Thursday, with Russia potentially vetoing a U.S. proposal after the team’s initial report on the sarin gas attack received broad international support.

Russia, Syria’s ally on the Security Council, has put forward its own draft resolution rejecting the findings of the 26-member UN panel, a proposal that has little chance of passage. The U.S. draft resolution accepts the team’s findings and calls for its mandate, which ends on Thursday, to be extended by 18 months.

“It’s absolutely crucial for the mandate to be renewed,” Matthew Rycroft, the U.K. ambassador to the UN, told reporters Wednesday. “The only winner would be the people who want to use chemical weapons in Syria -- Assad and the Islamic State.”

Rycroft said the majority of the Security Council’s 15 member states supported the U.S. resolution and he wasn’t aware of any substantial meetings between Russia and the U.S. to reach a compromise. Last month, Russia vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution to extend the panel’s mandate, saying it needed to see the results of the panel’s work before making a decision.

On Tuesday, Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that the two superpowers were still negotiating.

“We are engaging with them,” he said. “We don’t know whether we can come to an agreement.”

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