US officials condemned Russia’s “historic” failure to fulfil its obligations to guarantee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal at a global disarmament summit Wednesday.
The comments came in the wake of damning new revelations that Damascus benefited from supplies and expertise to expand its chemical weapons stockpile from North Korea.
Robert Wood, the US disarmament ambassador, told the conference that Moscow and other states that worked with Assad regime shared responsibility for the deadly diet of attacks on opposition-held areas in the war-torn country.
"Russia is on the wrong side of history with regard to chemical-weapons use in Syria," Mr Wood said. "For Russia to claim that the Assad regime has eliminated its chemical stockpiles is just absurd. Its continued denial of the Assad’s regime culpability in the use of chemical weapons is simply incredible."
North Korea shipped chemical supplies to Syria that play a vital role in the production of poison gas and other deadly weapons of mass destruction, according to report compiled by UN experts.
The leaked UN report stated that the Communist state sent supplies of acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers. A key finding states Syria has been aided by North Korea as it has sought to develop its chemical weapons programme.
It said there had been at least 40 illicit shipments to Syria from North Korea in the five years to 2017.
“North Korean missile technicians have also been spotted working at known chemical weapons and missile facilities inside Syria,” the report said.
Links between the two pariah states have been put under the microscope by the authors of the report, who have highlighted trade ties between them which it is claimed could see chemical weapons know-how flow from North Korea and money from Syria to further Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Mr Wood said there was strong evidence of collusion between the two regime over chemical weapons development. "Clearly there has been a history of a relationship between North Korea and Syria with regard to missile activity, chemical weapons components," he said.
The unreported shipments by North Korea to Syria between 2012 and 2017 also included prohibited ballistic missile parts and materials that could be used for both military and civilian purposes.
The news comes in the wake of accusations from the United States and other countries that Bashar Al Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons as recently as the last seven days, deploying chlorine gas against the residents of the beleaguered rebel-held territory of eastern Ghouta.
The Hague-based international chemical weapons inspectorate watchdog opened an investigation on Sunday into the Ghouta attacks to determine whether banned munitions had been used.
Syria signed up to the international ban on chemical weapons in 2013, as part of a deal brokered by Moscow to avert U.S. air strikes in retaliation for a nerve gas attack that killed hundreds of people, which Washington blamed on Damascus. In the years that followed, Syria's declared stockpile of banned poison gasses was destroyed by international monitors.
Western officials have stepped up warnings of unilateral strikes against Syrian military targets should the regime return to regular use of poisonous materiel to tilt the balance of the conflict.
UN officials refused to comment on the contents of the paper and did not offer any indication of when their report would be released.
“I think the overarching message is that all member states have a duty and responsibility to abide by the sanctions that are in place," said Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesman.
For his part Sergei Lavrov accused the United States and its allies of "simply exploiting baseless allegations of toxic-weapons use by Damascus as a tool of anti-Syrian political engineering."
The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also said Russia was ultimately to blame for any use of chemical weapons in Syria, and accused Moscow of violating a 2013 accord on the removal of chemical weapons.