Russia vetoes extension of chemical-weapons probe in Syria

Japan proposes 30-day extension to allow talks on a compromise

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Vasily Nebenzya and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speak before a meeting of the UN Security Council to vote on a bid to renew an international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, at the UN headquarters in New York, U.S., November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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Russia blocked a resolution at the United Nations Security Council on Thursday which looked to renew an international inquiry into who was to blame for chemical weapons attacks carried out in April 2017 in Syria.

The inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, was a joint operation between the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and needed to have its year-long mandate renewed by Friday. But when it came to be voted upon Russia vetoed the US-proposed extension.

A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted. The draft text received 11 votes in favour, while Russia and Bolivia voted against it and China and Egypt abstained.

The April 4 sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people which is the subject of the inquiry prompted the US to launch missiles on a Syrian air base. The US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned after the council vote on Thursday: “We will do it again if we must.”

“Russia has killed the Joint Investigative Mechanism,” Ms Haley added. “In effect Russia accepts the use of chemical weapons in Syria. How then can we trust Russia’s support for supposed peace in Syria?”

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said the draft resolution was not balanced.

“We need a robust, professional mechanism that will help to prevent the proliferation of the threat of chemical terrorism in the region and you need a puppet-like structure to manipulate public opinion,” Mr Nebenzia said.

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson joined in condemnation of Russia’s veto.

“It is appalling that the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism has been closed down. We continue to need expert impartial and independent investigations into allegations of chemical attacks in Syria,” he said.

Mr Johnson added: “Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council ends the Joint Investigative Mechanism. It can no longer help identify those responsible for use of chemical weapons in Syria. Russia’s response to four confirmed chemical attacks by the Syrian regime and two by Daesh is to shut down further investigation.”

Security Council members will consider a proposal by Japan on Friday that could see a 30-day extension of the inquiry, according to AFP.

Japan's proposed measure would allow more time to negotiate a possible compromise to allow the panel to continue its work of identifying those responsible for toxic gas attacks in Syria.

The draft measure would renew the JIM mandate for a month and task UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with submitting to the council in 20 days “proposals for the structure and methodology” of the panel.