Five permanent members of UN Security Council hold new Syria talks; no outcome
The talks were focused on a British draft resolution which would call for "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Syria after a suspected chemical weapons attack last week in which hundreds died.
Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said that Russia, the key backer of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, had called the latest meeting, which comes as the United States, Britain and France consider a military strike on Syria.
"I hope that means that they (the Russians) are now prepared to support the British draft resolution," Lyall Grant told reporters as he went into the meeting with envoys from Russia, China, France and the United States. After the meeting he quitted chamber looking quite displeased and issuing a curt "no comment".
"There's no further P5 (permanent council members) meeting scheduled but that could change," a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Russian diplomats declined to comment on the meeting apart from the fact that it had ended.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council will meet in New York on Thursday. They will be discussing the Syrian issue, diplomats said.
The point of the UN investigation is to determine whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria or not.
The investigation is not proceeding with no pre-assumptions as to who used the weapons and its goal does not lie in answering that question. That’s according a spokesman of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon.
Meanwhile, a US Congressional briefing on the situation in Syria will be held today via conference call. US Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice are among those participating.
Collage: Voice of Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Thursday on the need for the UN Security Council to study a report by UN experts on the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus, the Kremlin said.
"Both sides proceed from the fact that active work will be continued within the framework of the United Nations and other formats on issues of a political and diplomatic settlement of the current situation," the Kremlin said in a statement.
"In particular, it is important that the Security Council examines a report by UN inspectors about possible facts of the use of chemical weapons in Syria," it added.
In Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert confirmed the telephone conversation, saying Putin and Merkel agreed that the "conflict can only be resolved politically".
The German chancellor "emphasised that the inhumane poison gas attack against Syrian civilians requires an international reaction," Seibert added.
The conversation comes as Russia is expected to veto any attempts to win UN Security Council backing for Western-led military action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad over last week's attack, which activists say killed hundreds of people.
The United States, Britain and France have said Assad's regime was to blame for the alleged chemical attack but Russia has suggested it was the rebels seeking to discredit the regime.
The German government spokesman said that Merkel, who will fight for a third term in September 22 elections, had told Putin that discussions at the UN Security Council should lead to a "unanimous and quick international reaction".
"She is hoping for a quick conclusion to the UN inspection mission and a comprehensive report for the UN Security Council," Seibert's statement said.
Speaking on Russian national television, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said it was important to "undertake all the necessary steps to prevent the possible negative development of the situation" or the use of force against Syria.
"We are working towards that goal, our efforts are aimed at that," state-run ITAR-Tass new agency quoted him as saying.
The intention of UN experts, engaged in investigating information on chemical weapons use in Syria to return to The Hague to deliver the samples taken at the chemical attack site near Damascus, should not impede the completion of the investigation in the districts, on which the UN and the Syrian authorities initially agreed, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
"In the context of the information that has emerged on the intention of all UN experts investigating cases of possible chemical weapons use in Syria to return to The Hague in order to deliver samples taken at the site of the chemical weapons incident near Damascus to study them in a specialized laboratory of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, we think that it is necessary to emphasize that this should not interfere with the completion of the investigation process in the districts previously chosen in the framework of the agreement between the Syrian authorities and the UN Secretariat on August 13, 2013," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
Russia believes that "the UN Security Council should consider the cases of possible use of the chemical weapons comprehensively," said Lukashevich.
"Along with a suburb of Damascus, inspections should be conducted at three other places, including Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo," he noted. "Therefore, the inspectors should complete their mission and produce a report in the UN Security Council. If some more time is needed for these purposes, an opportunity for this is stipulated in the agreement, moreover, the Syrian side said the country is prepared for this," Lukashevich said.
"Along with a future conclusion of the UN experts it is needed to take into account a report, which Russian specialists had made after an inspection in Khan al-Assal and the results of which were checked in the certified laboratories of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons," the Russian high-ranking diplomat said.
Experts are expected to complete their work in Syria on August 30 and to inform UN Secretary General Pan Ki-moon of their conclusions on August 31.
It has been reported that Damascus had invited a group of UN experts to investigate the reports that the Syrian opposition activists used chemical weapons in March.
However, the UN executives started insisting on expanding the authority of the mission and on receiving the permission of the Syrian authorities to access other districts, where, including under the opposition statements, the governmental forces might have used the chemical weapons. Damascus rejected such a work format.
Eventually, the Syrian authorities authorized the UN experts to go to three districts in Syria.
In particular, experts will go to Khan al-Assal in the northern province of Aleppo, where, according to the information of the authorities, 26 people were killed in March as a result of an alleged chemical weapons attack by the opposition.
Plans to launch a military strike on Syria, made public by some western leaders, are challenging the key provisions of the UN Charter, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said during his recent meeting with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that political and diplomatic levers should be maximally used at the current stage. The UN experts that are investigating all instances of the likely use of chemical weapons in Syria should be able to accomplish their job in keeping with their mandate and report the results to the UN Security Council.
Gennady Gatilov said that the UN Secretary-General had also made it clear that there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict and the continuation of UN chemical experts’ work in the Arab country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has had a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, the Kremlin press service reported.
"The parties paid particular attention to the situation in and around Syria," the press service said.
"Both parties in general consider it impermissible to use chemical weapons by anyone," it said.
"Given calls to external military intervention in the Syrian conflict the parties stressed the need to search for a settlement only through political and diplomatic means," the press service said.
The two presidents also discussed bilateral cooperation and the schedule of upcoming contacts, it said.
The telephone conversation took place at Iran's initiative.
Voice of Russia, AFP, Guardian, Interfax, Reuters, dpa