Germany's assessment of the chemical weapons attack in Syria has shifted more into line with those of other Western nations such as France and the US. Russia, meanwhile, rejects the UN's finding on last month's attack.
Comments from German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in a newspaper interview on Wednesday brought Germany's position on last month's chemical weapons attack in Syria much closer into line with the stance taken by the United States, France, and Great Britain.
Westerwelle told Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the evidence "indicates that the Assad regime was behind" the chemical weapons attack from August 21.
On Monday, inspectors from the United Nations presented the findings of their investigation into the attack, which according to the US killed 1,429 people.
The inspectors concluded that sarin gas had been used, but did not assign culpability for the attack as this was outside of their UN mandate.
The US, France, and the UK were already convinced that the Assad regime had carried out the attack, and the report now confirmed Germany's assumption that "only the Assad regime had the materials and ability for this poisonous gas attack that had such terrible consequences," Westerwelle said..
Negotiations at UN
Russia, a key Syrian ally, has said Syrian rebels were behind the attack in an ploy to provoke the West. Rather than stage a military intervention to prevent further attacks – a move the US and France would support – Russia suggested last week the placing all chemical weapons in Syria under international control so they can be destroyed.
On Tuesday, a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US) failed to produce an agreement on such a plan to rid Syria of the weapons. Although the Assad regime has agreed in principal to the idea, one of the main sticking points to a draft UN resolution is what consequences should follow if Syria does not cooperate.
A French text, including a demand for action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter should Syria's government fail to adhere to the plan, was among the options on the table. France has also said it wants chemical weapons attacks in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Chapter VII covers the Security Council's authority to press compliance with resolutions, including the use of force.
Russia's new evidence
Russia is against including this measure in a resolution, and said on Wednesday it had received new evidence from Damascus about the chemical weapons attack.
"The corresponding materials were handed to the Russian side," said Russia Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov from talks in Damascus. "We were told that they were evidence that the rebels are implicated in the chemical attack."
He was also critical of the UN's report on the chemical weapons attack, saying Russia is "disappointed, to put it mildly, about the approach taken by the UN secretariat and the UN inspectors, who prepared the report selectively and incompletely."
Ryabkov, who was in Syria on 'Wednesday to press for Syrian cooperation on handing over its chemical weapons, said he had given assurances by Damascus that there was "no basis" for action under Chapter VII.
Washington insists that it remains an option based on what was discussed by the top US and Russia diplomats last weekend in Geneva.
The conflict in Syria has gone on for some 30 months, with an estimated 110,000 people killed.
mz/ipj (Reuters, AFP)