While building up a case against the Syrian government, the US has relied on the sophisticated filtration of information and manipulation of public opinion through carefully weighted statements with no hard proof, Russian UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said.
“Our requests for additional information which could prove
the Syrian government involvement in the use of chemical weapons
were ignored by Washington,” Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said
after a closed-door UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on two UN
chemical weapons reports by Ake Sellstrom.
The sarin attacks near Aleppo on March 19 and in Ghouta on August 21 are the two most “alarming” incidents of the Syrian conflict, Churkin told reporters, adding that the story becomes “full of contradictions” if blame is placed on the Syrian government.
"Why would the Syrian government use chemical weapons on August 21?" Churkin said. "To cross the red line drawn by Washington and invite a missile strike upon itself? Why would the opposition use chemical weapons? Exactly because of the red line. To provoke foreign military intervention in the Syrian conflict.”
The August 21 attack was a provocation by the rebels, Churkin believes, noting that Sellstrom’s investigation got acquainted with the OPCW-certified (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) report. He added that the UN team did not refute the results found by Russian experts in the report.
The Russian team’s analysis concluded that “home-made” sarin was used near Aleppo on March 19. It stated that the sarin was likely delivered by a crudely made missile. The team also named the particular opposition group most likely behind the attack.
At the time, the Syrian government immediately requested an international investigation of the March 19 incident, Churkin reminded, but “then the United Kingdom and France all of a sudden recalled a Homs case, that had not bothered them for 3 preceding months, while the US started insisting on the need to investigate ‘all incidents.’”
“Why did those who accused the Syrian government of this act did their utmost to derail or at least delay such investigation?” Churkin wondered, reminding how the dragging UN probe was interfered by the tragic events in Ghouta on August 21.
“As our experts concluded, sarin used on August 21 was of approximately the same type as the one used on March 19, though of a slightly better quality. It means that over a few months opposition chemists somewhat improved the quality of their product,” Churkin said.
In his speech, the UN envoy also said that some US experts determined that the projectile use in the August incident was “an improvised one and could be manufactured in a machine-shop, while the range of the rocket could not exceed 2 km,” which means that “it was launched from the territory controlled by opposition.”
Yet despite the August 21 tragedy that killed over 1,400 people, the US and its allies have blamed the Syrian government for the atrocity in Ghouta, with Washington releasing a four-page document containing only “hints and assertions but no real evidence.” Moscow’s request for further evidence showing the government’s involvement in the attacks was ignored by the US, Churkin stated.
“The lack of any proof was particularly strange since, as the public learnt from media reports based on Edward Snowden's materials, the US had powerful intelligence assets in Syria: sensors capable to provide in real time information on any mixing of precursors by the Syrian troops for sarin production,” he said.
And a public warning against chemical weapons sent out by President Obama following a 2012 Syrian military drill proves the US had such early warning systems, Churkin added.
Considering sarin’s fast degradation, it cannot be produced long in advance, Churkin reminded, refuting allegations that “the US knew that the Syrians for a few days in advance of August 21 were preparing for a chemical attack.” He said the US used “sophisticated filtration of information and manipulation of public opinion” to build the case, similar to that in preparation for the Iraq war.
“Indeed one needs to read carefully President Obama's statement of September 10,” Churkin explained. “[Obama] says: ‘In the days leading up to August 21, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas.’” That is, "we know" as of September 10 - not in the days that preceded August 21.”
Churkin gave his assessment of the events citing an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh. The “US administration simply extrapolated to the situation of August 21 their understanding of how the Syrian military were supposed to act in preparation for the use of chemical weapons,” he said.
Churkin concluded that the “US had no information at all,” prior to the August attack. “It is clear why: the sensors stayed silent because no chemical agents were mixed to produce sarin. But if sarin was not being produced then the Syrian government troops did not have it for use on August 21.”
Citing Hersh, Chrukin asserted that Washington instead knew for “several months” prior to the Ghouta incident that the opposition “had learnt how to produce sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity,” based on a US intelligence assessment. That could be why, Churkin argues, the US did not provide chemical protection gear to the opposition, since the “US administration feared that the opposition groups would resort to the use of the chemical weapons once they got the protective gear.”
In conclusion, Churkin said it is “absolutely obvious that on August 21 a large-scale provocation was staged.”
Washington did not immediately comment on Churkin's statement, but Reuters sources said that American Ambassador Samantha Power told the Russian envoy behind closed doors that a “Christmas vacation might do the Russian ambassador good.” Churkin told Reuters it “was not a very polite comment to make.”
The US representative also told the Security Council meeting that the “Russian regime has a remarkable trust in a government that sends rockets at and bombs its own population,” to which Churkin replied that Moscow determines its position based on fact assessment.
Meanwhile, French Ambassador to the United Nations Gerard Araud said the meeting was an “acrimonious exchange.” British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant attacked Russia’s stance in a tweet, comparing it to a “giant squid.”
— Mark Lyall Grant (@LyallGrant) December 16, 2013
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said that Washington “cannot be an arsonist and a fireman at the same time,” as Russia and the US are attempting to broker a peace conference in Geneva.
The UNSC session followed the first briefing from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the final report of a UN inspection team that was released on Friday, which concluded that poison gas was likely used in five out of seven investigated incidents in Syria. But the team did not have the mandate to say which side was responsible for the attacks.
Also on Monday, Russia announced that it is ready to provide its navy ships to accompany European vessels transporting Syrian chemical weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the announcement after a meeting with EU ministers in Brussels.
It has been agreed that the US will neutralize 500 tons of chemical components which can be used to make mustard gas and sarin aboard an American ship in international waters.
According to Lavrov, “a range of EU states” have offered their ships to transport these components to the site where they will be destroyed. The Russian minister underlined that the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile will be carried out in full accordance with ecological norms.