Russia calls U.N. report ‘distorted’ and ‘one-sided’; Syria calls it incomplete

Syria has handed over fresh material implicating the opposition of using chemical weapons to Russia, which has expressed its disappointment with a United Nations (U.N.) report that establishes use of sarin gas in the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.

After talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Damascus on Wednesday, the visiting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov said that the “corresponding materials were handed to the Russian side”. The minister pointed out that Moscow would “examine the Syrian materials implicating the militants with the utmost seriousness”. Mr. Ryabkov did not offer any detail about the nature of the material that had been provided.

Soon after the talks in Damascus, it became evident that the spirit of cooperation was evaporating fast between Russia and the United States — two countries which had worked closely together in Geneva to broker a deal to eliminate Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. On Wednesday, Mr. Ryabkov used unusually harsh language to slam the U.N. report — strongly backed by the U.S. and its allies — on the chemical attack outside the Syrian capital.

“We think that report was distorted, it was one-sided, the basis of information upon which it is built is not sufficient, and in any case we would need to learn and know more on what happened beyond and above that incident of August 21,” said Mr. Ryabkov. The visiting minister stressed that “without the full picture, we cannot but call the nature of conclusions drawn by U.N. experts as politicised, biased and unilateral”.

Responding to Russia’s criticism, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asserted that, “Nobody can question the objectivity of the people appointed by the U.N.”

During a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Mr. Ryabkov observed that Moscow saw the Syrian issue as the “pivot of world politics”, Syrian state news agency SANA reported. He affirmed the need for the continuation of “deep and practical consultation and coordination between the two countries’ leaderships”.

The Russian criticism notwithstanding, the 38-page U.N. report acknowledges that the warheads used in the chemical attack “could be original or improvised”. Besides, it concedes that evidence at the site, which had been visited by others before and during its investigation, might have been “moved” or even “manipulated”.

On its part, Syria has been critical about the release of the U.N. report, as other suspected incidents have not been investigated.

Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s permanent representative to the U.N., asserted during a session of the General Assembly on Tuesday, which had been convened to hear Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s update on the August 21 investigation, that the partial release of the report could be misleading. He pointed out that secretariat could have waited to allow the investigators to complete their probe into all allegations listed in the August 15 agreement with the Syrian government. These included investigation into the March 19 incident in Khan al-Assal, a town on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

Mr. Jaafari stressed that the release of the incomplete report has served the interventionist agenda of some countries, which seek to politicise the probe and demonise the Syrian government. The Syrian envoy pointed out that his government had on several occasions cautioned against the use of chemical weapons by groups in Syria with al-Qaeda affiliations.

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