Syria crisis: UN report to confirm chemical arms attack

 

Ban Ki-moon: "He (Assad) has committed many crimes against humanity"

A UN report expected next week will "overwhelmingly" confirm that chemical weapons were used in Syria last month, the secretary general says.

Ban Ki-moon made no comment on who was to blame for the 21 August attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus, as that is not part of the report's remit.

But he did say Syria's president was guilty of "crimes against humanity".

The US and Russian foreign ministers are continuing their talks on a plan to make safe Syria's chemical weapons.

A spokeswoman for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva would head into the night, adding: "They are working on some real substance."

'Accountability'

Washington and its allies accuse the Syrian government of killing hundreds of people in a chemical attack in Ghouta. The government denies the allegation, blaming rebels.

Mr Ban said the UN findings would be "an overwhelming report that chemical weapons were used".

Analysis

"We wouldn't be continuing if we didn't think there was room for progress," one US official in Geneva said. "But it's difficult."

The two sides "are coming closer on the size of the stockpile," a US administration official added. Going into these talks, the Americans and Russians cited very different figures for the size of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile (an apparent 40% difference). The US has shared its intelligence on this with the Russians, which seems to have narrowed the difference.

The official would not be drawn on reports from Washington that the US no longer expects a UN Security Council resolution to include the potential use of military force. This, the official said, was not the focus of discussion in Geneva.

The stage would appear to be almost set for the announcement of a joint statement, probably on Saturday, that the US and Russia have reached agreement on the principles and framework of a plan to oversee the dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons.

Mr Ban made no comment on blame but did say that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had "carried out many crimes against humanity".

"Therefore, I'm sure that there will be surely the process of accountability when everything is over," Mr Ban said.

The BBC's Nick Bryant says Mr Ban appeared not to have realised his comments at the UN Women's International Forum were being broadcast.

But they were shown on UN television.

Chief chemical weapons inspector Ake Sellstrom has now confirmed that the report is complete.

"It's done, but when to present it is up to the secretary-general," he said.

A senior UN diplomat told the BBC that Mr Ban would brief the Security Council on the report in New York at 11:00 local time (15:00 GMT) on Monday.

US state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the US believed the UN report would not assign blame but that it would "reinforce what we have already said" about the Ghouta incident.

Diplomats said the report might not lay explicit blame, but that its factual reporting - based on soil, blood and urine samples, and interviews with doctors and witnesses - could suggest who was responsible.

'Real negotiating'

The negotiations in Geneva are mainly concerned with a Russian plan to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control.

Syria has agreed to the plan and has sent documents to the UN to sign up to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws the production and use of the weapons.

The BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen on "exceptionally heavy shelling" in Damascus

The plan led President Barack Obama to put off calls for the US Congress to vote on a campaign of military strikes.

The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said of the talks: "We are staying; probably they will finalise it through the night. I am not sure about tomorrow (Saturday), but they will go through the night."

She told Reuters: "It is a sign that we are going on, that we proceed with talking and negotiating. Now it is like a real negotiating process, they are working on some real substance."

One US official told the agency the talks were at a "pivotal point".

John Kerry: "We are both deeply concerned about the acts on all sides"

Mr Kerry had earlier described the talks as "constructive" and President Obama said after meeting Kuwait's emir at the White House that he hoped they would "bear fruit".

"But I repeated what I've said publicly, which is any agreement needs to be verifiable and enforceable," Mr Obama said.

Diplomacy will continue over the weekend, with Mr Kerry visiting Israel on Sunday.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and French counterpart Laurent Fabius will meet Mr Kerry in Paris on Monday.

Before resuming bilateral talks in Geneva, Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry met UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Mr Kerry said that they planned to meet again on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later in the month to try to set a date for a long-delayed peace conference known as Geneva 2.

Chemical weapons plan timeline

5-6 Sep: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama discuss idea of placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control on sidelines of G20 summit

9 Sep: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he has urged Syria to hand in chemical weapons and have them destroyed; Syria welcomes plan

10 Sep: Syria's foreign minister makes first public admission of the regime's chemical weapons stockpile; Syria commits to Russian plan. Mr Obama postpones Congress vote on military action and says he will give Russian plan a chance

12 Sep: US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Mr Lavrov in Geneva

13 Sep: Second round of Geneva talks takes place

He said both the US and Russia were "deeply committed to a negotiated solution" to the conflict in Syria and he and Mr Lavrov were "working hard to find the common ground to be able to make that happen".

Mr Lavrov said he welcomed the chance to discuss the "longer-term goal" of peace in Syria, and that now Syria had joined the Chemical Weapons Convention it was necessary "to design a road which would make sure that this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as is practical".

The BBC's James Robbins in Geneva says it appears the pair of envoys get on well, but that until they agree on the narrower issue of chemical weapons, reviving the wider peace talks feels like a distant prospect.

If the Geneva talks are successful, the US hopes the disarmament process will be agreed in a UN Security Council resolution.

However, Russia regards as unacceptable any resolution backed by military force. The Obama administration for its part has signalled its willingness to compromise on a possible UN resolution punishing Syria.

Senior White House officials are quoted as saying that President Obama will no longer demand that it includes the threat of force - the major sticking point with Russia.

Instead, they told reporters America would reserve the right to take military action without UN backing.

More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against President Assad began in 2011. Millions of Syrians have been displaced.

 

More on This Story

Syria conflict

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
 

Comments 5 of 297

 

More Middle East stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.