Western powers are to attempt to inject diplomatic momentum behind the military strikes against Syrian government chemical weapon sites by calling for the UN both to launch a broad investigation into Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and to try to reinvigorate the stalled UN peace talks.
The UN security council will meet on Monday to discuss the call for a wider push to eliminate the covert Syrian government stockpiles, placing pressure on Russia to stop protecting the Assad regime from a UN inquiry into its use of chemical weapons.
The three allies, the US, UK and France, have produced a draft UN resolution that also includes proposals for an independent investigation into alleged toxic gas attacks in Syria to identify perpetrators.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) would be instructed to report within 30 days whether President Assad’s government has fully disclosed its chemical weapons stockpile.
The security council has been deadlocked since last November over establishing an investigatory mechanism to identify responsibility for a chemical attack, as opposed to determining whether an attack has occurred. The OPCW is in Damascus to certify whether a chemical attack occurred on 7 April, but it has no wider terms of reference.
The draft UN resolution also calls for medical evacuations and the safe passage for aid convoys to all areas of Syria.
A ceasefire resolution that was adopted in February but never materialised should also be enforced, it adds.
The document “demands” that the Assad regime engages in peace talks “in good faith, constructively and without pre-conditions”.
EU foreign ministers are expected to back the call at a meeting on Monday in Brussels. The proposal is also likely to be discussed at an Arab League summit hosted by Saudi Arabia.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also called for urgent action to avoid a further humanitarian disaster by forestalling an expected Syrian assault on the last major opposition-held province of Idlib in north-eastern Syria. Le Drian called for the jihadist groups that dominate the area to be disarmed and for Russia to order Syria to hold back from further assaults. He said Russia “should join our efforts to promote a political process in Syria that would allow a way out of the crisis”.
The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, said it would be “an extra” if the strikes led to Russia putting pressure on Assad to negotiate, but he said the strikes had been designed to deter and degrade Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons rather than change the course of the civil war.
Both Russia and Syria continued to denounce the military strikes by the US, France and the UK as an illegal act of aggression. On Saturday, only three of the 15-member UN security council backed a Russian resolution denouncing the strikes as an illegal act of aggression.
The US envoy to the UN, Nikki Hayley, told the security council on Saturday its forces were ready, “locked and loaded”, to mount further strikes, if there were signs Assad was planning to use chemical weapons again. She did not give a precise definition of the use of chemical weapons.
The narrowly targeted pre-dawn military operation on Saturday took aim at three alleged chemical weapons facilities.
The allies believe following the extensive consultation last week that they have a further set of targets established and a system of coordination in place that will prevent the delays that reduced the impact of Saturday morning’s strikes.
A Trump administration official, briefing reporters, said the US assessed that sarin was also used in the 7 April attack but suggested that US information on sarin came from analysis of reports from news media and other public sources of information, as opposed to US intelligence.
A 2015-17 joint inquiry of the United Nations and the OPCW had found the Syrian government used sarin in a 4 April 2017, attack and has also several times used chlorine as a weapon. It blamed Islamic State militants for the use of mustard gas.
That inquiry ended in November after Russia, which backs Assad, blocked three attempts by the UN security council to renew its mandate. Moscow criticised the joint UN and OPCW inquiry as flawed.
Ahead of the latest strikes, Haley signalled to the security council on Friday that any action by Washington would not only be in response to the attack in Douma.
“The United States estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times. Public estimates are as high as 200,” she said.
This story originally appeared in The Guardian. Image courtesy of Xinhua/Barcroft Images.