The New Zealand Herald
US, Russia clash over Syria
Heated scenes at UN over how to respond to Douma attack
Russia and the United States have tangled at the United Nations over the use of chemical weapons in Syria as Washington and its allies consider whether to strike at President Bashar al-Assad’s forces over a suspected poison gas attack last weekend.
Moscow and Washington halted attempts by each other in the UN Security Council to set up international investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, which is in the throes of a seven-year-old civil war.
US President Donald Trump and Western allies are discussing possible military action to punish Assad for a suspected poison gas attack on Sunday on a rebel-held town that long had held out against government forces.
Trump yesterday cancelled a planned trip to Latin America this week to focus instead on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said. Trump had on Tuesday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the Syria attack was established.
Pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol warned airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of airstrikes into Syria.
On the diplomatic front, the UN Security Council failed to approve three draft resolutions on chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Russia vetoed a US text, while two Russiandrafted resolutions failed to get a minimum nine votes to pass.
Moscow opposes any Western strike on its close ally Assad and has vetoed Security Council action on Syria 12 times since the conflict started.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told the Security Council that adopting the US- drafted resolution was the least that member nations could do.
At least 60 people were killed and more than 1000 injured in Sunday’s suspected chemical weapons attack on the town of Douma, according to a Syrian relief group.
Doctors and witnesses have said victims showed symptoms of poisoning, possibly by a nerve agent, and reported the smell of chlorine gas.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Washington’s decision to put forward its resolution could be a prelude to a Western strike on Syria.
“I would once again ask you, once again beseech you, to refrain from the plans that you’re currently developing for Syria,” he said after the council failed to approve a third draft resolution on chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
International chemical weapons experts are expected to go to Douma to investigate the suspected poison gas attack.
France and Britain discussed with the Trump Administration how to respond to the Douma attack. Both stressed that the culprit still needed to be confirmed.
The Douma incident has thrust Syria’s conflict back to the forefront of the international stage, pitting Washington and Moscow against each other once again.
Trump said that he would make a decision about how to respond within a few days, adding that the US had “a lot of options militarily” on Syria.
Assad’s Government and Russia have said there was no evidence a gas attack had taken place and that the claim was bogus.
Any US strike is likely to involve naval assets, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defence systems. A US Navy guidedmissile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean. Last year, the US launched strikes from two navy destroyers against a Syrian air base.
French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that any strikes would not target the Syrian Government’s allies or anybody in particular, but would be aimed at the Syrian Government’s chemical facilities.
Aggravating the volatile situation in the region, Iran — Assad’s other main ally — threatened to respond to an airstrike on a Syrian military base on Monday that Tehran, Damascus and Moscow have blamed on Israel.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, meanwhile, said there was no threat of the situation resulting in a military clash between Russia and the US.