U.S. be­rates Syria at hear­ing on fa­tal chem­i­cal at­tack


THE HAGUE, NETHER­LANDS | Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties — “abet­ted by Rus­sia’s con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to bury the truth” — still pos­sess and use chem­i­cal weapons, an Amer­i­can diplo­mat told the in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog on Thurs­day.

The strong com­ments by Ken­neth D. Ward, the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador to the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, came amid on­go­ing diplo­matic skir­mishes over last week’s deadly at­tack in Syria.

Mr. Ward used a hastily con­vened meet­ing of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil to launch a with­er­ing ver­bal at­tack on Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and his al­lies in Moscow.

The meet­ing was called to dis­cuss the April 4 at­tack on the Syr­ian town of Khan Shaykhun that killed nearly 90 peo­ple. The United States and other West­ern gov­ern­ments blame As­sad’s regime.

Pres­i­dent Trump in re­tal­i­a­tion launched mis­sile strikes on a Syr­ian air base the U.S. said was the start­ing point for the chem­i­cal weapons at­tack, a move that ratch­eted up ten­sions be­tween the United States and Syria’s ally Rus­sia.

Rus­sia and Syria claim the Khan Shaykhun vic­tims were killed by toxic agents re­leased from a rebel chem­i­cal arse­nal hit by Syr­ian war­planes.

Mr. As­sad, in an in­ter­view with Agence France-Presse, de­nied that any chem­i­cal weapons at­tack took place.

“Def­i­nitely, 100 per­cent for us, it’s fab­ri­ca­tion,” Mr. As­sad said in the video re­leased by his of­fice.

“Our im­pres­sion is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the ter­ror­ists. They fab­ri­cated the whole story in or­der to have a pre­text for the at­tack,” Mr. As­sad said in his first com­ments since the U.S. mis­sile strikes in re­sponse to the chem­i­cal at­tack.

But OPCW Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Ah­met Uzumcu told the meet­ing at the group’s head­quar­ters in The Hague that the pre­lim­i­nary as­sess­ment of OPCW ex­perts in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack was “that this was a cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tion.”

He said in­ves­ti­ga­tors have col­lected sam­ples that have been sent for anal­y­sis.

Amb. Ward in­sisted it was a de­lib­er­ate at­tack that amounted to “a di­rect af­front to the Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion and, in­deed, a di­rect af­front to hu­man de­cency, car­ried out by a State Party” to the OPCW, ac­cord­ing to the text of his speech that was posted on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site.

Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 un­der se­vere in­ter­na­tional pres­sure fol­low­ing a deadly chem­i­cal at­tack on a Da­m­as­cus sub­urb. Mr. As­sad’s gov­ern­ment told the or­ga­ni­za­tion it had a 1,300-ton stock­pile of chem­i­cal weapons and chem­i­cals used to make them. The stock­pile was de­stroyed in an op­er­a­tion over­seen by the No­bel Peace Prize win­ning-group OPCW, but ever since there have been ques­tions about whether As­sad had de­clared all his weapons.

On Thurs­day night, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan said he and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin have agreed to sup­port the OPCW in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mr. Er­do­gan’s of­fice said in a state­ment that “the two lead­ers agreed that the at­tack in ques­tion be in­ves­ti­gated by the OPCW, which is an in­de­pen­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion whose le­git­i­macy is rec­og­nized.”

In Moscow, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov said Thurs­day that OPCW in­spec­tors should visit both the Syr­ian air base, which the U.S. said served as a plat­form for the at­tack, and Khan Sheikhoun to get a full and ob­jec­tive pic­ture.

He said Rus­sia ve­toed a draft U.N. res­o­lu­tion Wed­nes­day be­cause it failed to men­tion the need to in­spect the area of the at­tack.

“We are deeply wor­ried by our part­ners in the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil try­ing to evade an hon­est in­ves­ti­ga­tion into that episode,” he said.

Sep­a­rately, a mis­di­rected airstrike by the U.S.-led coali­tion ear­lier this week killed 18 al­lied fight­ers bat­tling the Is­lamic State group in north­ern Syria, the U.S. mil­i­tary ac­knowl­edged Thurs­day.

U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand said coali­tion air­craft were given the wrong co­or­di­nates by their part­ner forces, the pre­dom­i­nantly Kur­dish Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, for the strike on Tues­day that was in­tended to tar­get IS mil­i­tants south of their Tabqa strong­hold, near the ex­trem­ists’ de facto cap­i­tal, Raqqa. The strike hit an SDF po­si­tion in­stead.


Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov lis­tens to his Syr­ian coun­ter­part Walid Muallem in Moscow, Rus­sia, on Thurs­day. Mr. Lavrov said the OPCW in­spec­tors should visit both the Syr­ian air base and Khan Sheikhoun.

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