Russian Foreign Minister comments on Pence, McMasters statements, and chemical weapon investigation problems

From Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation
April 17, 2017

Excerpts:

Question: Can you comment on rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, taking into account US Vice President Mike Pence’s comment that the era of strategic patience is over in relations with North Korea and that all options are on the table to achieve security in the region?

Sergey Lavrov: I wouldn’t describe relations between North Korea and the Obama administration as an era of strategic patience, because the United States greatly restricted North Korea’s ability to develop the industries that could promote the nuclear or energy sectors. The UN Security Council adopted harsh sanctions against North Korea and condemned its policy.

If the figure of speech used by the US Vice President can be understood as a threat of a unilateral military solution, it is a highly risky path. We condemn Pyongyang’s opportunistic nuclear missile plans, which violate the numerous UN Security Council resolutions. But this does not mean that other countries can violate international law and use military force contrary to the UN Charter. I strongly hope that no unilateral actions will be taken similar to those we have recently seen in Syria, and that the United States will pursue the line President Donald Trump put forth during his election campaign.

Question: Can you comment on the statement by the US National Security Adviser Army Lieutenant General McMaster that “it’s time though, now, to have those tough discussions” with Russia over its support for Syria’s government and its “subversive actions” in Europe?

Sergey Lavrov: This is a complex question. I have no desire to comment on the unsubstantiated accusations made against Russia. First they concerned Ukraine, and now the focus has shifted to Syria. I have seen media reports that US or British officials are saying that they could cooperate with Russia if it [behaved] in Ukraine and, Syria, and now the Korean Peninsula has been added to the list. It appears that we must do something for somebody on the Korean Peninsula too, although we did not create the chaos that is reigning there. ISIS, and before it, al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, are the offspring of opportunistic projects that involved our Western partners, primarily many US administrations, which began by supporting the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and praising them as freedom fighters, and continued this policy in Iraq and Libya. And now that these countries have been ruined, it appears that we must pay for the consequences. This is not how partners act. This approach is not acceptable to us. We will not listen to what President Trump’s adviser has said, but what President Trump himself has said, that he is optimistic when it comes to improving relations with Russia. We are ready for this.

Question: What issues are on the agenda of the upcoming Geneva meeting on the intra-Syrian settlement? Will it be political issues only, or will military issues also be discussed, in light of the recent air strike on the Syrian airfield and the coalition landing operation near Deir Ez-Zor?

Sergey Lavrov: The talks in Geneva will be held after May 3–4, that is, following a regular meeting in Astana. We hope that the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan de Mistura, will find a suitable date. It has been suggested that since the holy month of Ramadan begins in late May, it would be expedient to postpone the talks until after it ends. We are convinced that we must not lose momentum, especially in a situation when the political process has been brought into question. I am referring to the strike on the Shayrat airfield and the intention of many players in Syria, among the external opposition and in many countries in and outside the region, to use this situation to place the blame squarely on Bashar al-Assad. They seek to deviate from a political settlement through the expression of the will of the Syrian people themselves to conduct unilateral actions to overthrow the Syrian government. It is an alarming trend. As I have said, in pursuit of this goal, they are using the April 4 chemical weapons incident in Idlib, which was followed by the illegal US air strike on the airfield from which planes allegedly carrying chemical weapons took off. I have said repeatedly that we demand that an objective and unbiased investigation be carried out under the auspices of the OPCW with assistance from independent experts, and that this investigation be fully transparent.

I would like to remind you that we have pointed out a very strange coincidence: that the two groups of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the potential use of chemical weapons in Syria are chaired by UK citizens. We have said that this runs contrary to the principles of an international organisation, the structures of which must be maximally balanced. We have not received any response as yet, but we can regard a recent statement by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as an indirect response. He said in an interview that Damascus and Russia and Iran, which support it, are to blame for the chemical attack.  By way of evidence, he said that British scientists have analysed samples from the site of the attack, and that these have tested positive for sarin or a sarin-like substance. That’s an interesting coincidence: British citizens chairing the OPCW FFM don’t tell anyone anything, while British scientists have already analysed samples taken at the site of the incident. I believe we will be sending a request to the OPCW today demanding an explanation. I expect they will have to answer this time.

The situation is not simple at all. We hope that the majority of countries see what is going on. We will not permit anyone to derail the efforts to attain a political settlement in Syria under the UN Security Council resolution.

http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2729221

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UN committee’s bogus Syria “human rights” report ignores evidence. Co-author’s blatant conflict of interest

[Co-author] Karen AbuZayd is a director of the Washington based Middle East Policy Council, itself a strong supporter of the US-led dirty war on Syria. Other MEPC directors include present and former US military, intelligence, oil industry and other US corporate figures.
Global Research, March 03, 2017

A UN committee has produced another one-sided, bogus ‘human rights’ report on last year’s liberation of Aleppo, Syria’s second city. Co-authored by US diplomat Karen AbuZayd and Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, the report attacks both the Syrian Army and the al Qaeda groups (UNGA 2017).

However its stronger condemnation of the Syrian Army is notable, as part of constant attempts to delegitimise the Syrian people’s struggle to liberate their own country from the NATO-backed terrorists. This report follows similar partisan attacks from ‘watchdog’ groups embedded with the US State Department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty USA.

None of these groups have condemned the anti-ISIS operation in Mosul (Iraq) in the way they did the anti-al Qaeda operations in Aleppo (Syria).

The principal effect of the one-sided and bogus ‘human rights’ reports on Syria is to prolong the war and embolden foreign powers who, in open breach of international law, arm and finance all the al Qaeda groups in Syria and Iraq.

Although the latest AbuZayd-Pinheiro report is poorly referenced it follows much the same method as other US-backed ‘human rights’ denunciations: (i) speak to a number of anonymous al Qaeda ‘victims’ and their families, mainly in Turkey but some also by phone in the al Qaeda occupied parts of Syria, (ii) collate the latest claims from US-funded and jihadist-linked groups, (iii) make no visit to Syria nor communicate with Syrian organisations (e.g. there is no sign the committee tried to speak with the 4,000 member Aleppo Medical Association) and then (iv) present a thoroughly one-sided judgement.

The western media mounted furious propaganda resistance to the Syrian Army’s operation to take back Aleppo, claiming there were ‘indiscriminate’ airstrikes, and so on. Syria and Russia denied these accusations and the AbuZayd-Pinheiro report has backed them all.

Notable features of the report include: obviously false assertions about supposed ‘daily airstrikes’ on Aleppo city, the suggestion that al Qaeda makeshift clinics were the only ‘hospitals’ in Aleppo, and the baseless claim that Syrian-Russian airstrikes destroyed a humanitarian convoy.

The report claims that “Syrian and Russian air forces conducted daily air strikes in Aleppo throughout most of the period under review”, that is July-December 2016. On this basis the committee adopts the armed groups’ claims that eastern Aleppo was subject to constant ‘barrel bomb’ and chemical weapons attacks (UNGA 2017).

However, unlike the AbuZayd-Pinheiro report, much of the western media did report that air strikes on the city were halted in mid-October, as humanitarian corridors were established for the evacuation of civilians. When Russian air strikes resumed several weeks later, in mid-November (despite efforts by the New York Times on 16 November to fudge this detail), they were on al Qaeda and ISIS groups in rural Idlib and rural Aleppo; not on the city. The liberation of Aleppo between October and December was almost entirely through Syrian ground forces smashing resistance street by street. So the ‘daily airstrikes’ on Aleppo city, spoken of in the AbuZayd-Pinheiro report, is an obvious falsehood.

On hospitals, the report names several armed group makeshift clinics in eastern Aleppo, none of which were marked and registered hospitals. (Clinics lose their protection under international law when they become covert military support installations.) By contrast there is not one single mention of the large hospitals of western Aleppo (Dabbit, Ibn Rush and al Razi), which were bombed by the al Qaeda groups in 2016.

The attack on a UN humanitarian convoy on 20 September (just days after the 17 September US-led airstrike massacre of 80 Syrian soldiers fighting ISIS in Deir Ezzor) was blamed squarely on a Syrian or Russian airstrike, it seems on the basis of evidence from anonymous ‘witnesses’. There is no plausible motive for this. Syria and Russia were and remain the largest providers of services and humanitarian aid to all Aleppo communities.

The report fails to mention the fact that the armed groups in eastern Aleppo had emphatically rejected humanitarian aid, holding a demonstration just one week before the burning of those trucks. A UN spokesperson at the time claimed the armed groups were blocking the delivery of aid for “political gain” (Sanchez 2016). Further, the Russian military had observed that there were no craters on the road nor destruction of the trucks’ chassis, as would be the case with aerial bombing (RT 2016). The area had been occupied by al Qaeda groups who have a record of murder of civilian drivers and burning trucks; they did this two months later when civilian trucks traveled through Idlib to the besieged Shi’a villages of al Fouaa and Kefraya (Pasha-Robinson 2016). The AbuZayd-Pinheiro claims about Russian-Syrian airstrikes on this convoy and therefore baseless and contrary to the known evidence.

The AbuZayd-Pinheiro committee is the same one which, from Geneva, fabricated a report on the terrible Houla massacre of May 2012, in which over 100 villagers were killed by the NATO-backed Farouq Brigade (FSA). At least 15 independent witnesses identified Farouq brigade (FSA) leaders (Abdulrazzq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf) and local collaborators (Haitham al Housan, Saiid Fayes al Okesh, Haitham al Halq and Nidal Bakkur) for the massacre (see Anderson 2016: Ch. 8). The AbuZayd-Pinheiro committee, however, tried to blame un-named “shabiha” militia loyal to President Assad. No motive was given. Some of these villagers had participated in the recent National Assembly elections, over which the jihadists had demanded a boycott. The obvious partisan nature of the Houla report led Russia, China, India and others to withdraw their support from this and future UN Security Council resolutions on Syria.

Karen AbuZayd is a director of the Washington based Middle East Policy Council, itself a strong supporter of the US-led dirty war on Syria. Other MEPC directors include present and former US military, intelligence, oil industry and other US corporate figures. On simple conflict of interest principles she should never have been appointed to such a committee, as a diplomat from one of the warring parties. Former UN Secretary general Ban Ki Moon was responsible for this error. Washington, for its part, has been too absorbed in hubris to notice that it is unseemly to pretend to be both assailant and mediator.

UN special envoy Stefan di Mistura, despite being ‘appalled and shocked’ that the armed gangs were targeting and killing ‘scores’ of civilians in western Aleppo by ‘relentless and indiscriminate’ rocket attacks (BBC 30 October), nevertheless proposed an ‘autonomous zone’ in eastern Aleppo to protect the al Qaeda controlled areas. The proposal was emphatically rejected by the Syrian Government (Reuters 20 November), which went on to eject all the al Qaeda groups from Aleppo in late December 2016.

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Sources:

Anderson, Tim (2016) The Dirty War on Syria, Global Research, Montreal

Barnard, Anne and Ivan Nechepurenko (2016) ‘Airstrikes on Aleppo Resume as Russia Begins New Offensive in Syria’, New York Times, 16 November, online: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/world/middleeast/syria-aleppo-russia-airstrikes.html

BBC (2016) ‘Aleppo siege: UN envoy Mistura ‘appalled’ by rebel attacks’, 30 October, online: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37816938

Pestano, Andrew (2016) ‘Aleppo airstrikes resume after 3-week pause’, UPI, 15 November, online: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/11/15/Aleppo-airstrikes-resume-after-3-week-pause/8561479211543/

Pasha-Robinson, Lucy (2016) ‘Buses used to evacuate Syrians from villages ‘attacked and burned’’, 19 December, online: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-crisis-aleppo-what-is-happening-villages-buses-attacked-and-burned-a7482736.html

Reuters (2016) ‘Syria foreign minister says no to east Aleppo autonomous zone’, 20 November, online: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-aleppo-idUSKBN13F0J1

RT (2016) ‘Russian, Syrian Air Forces did not strike UN aid convoy in Aleppo – Russian MoD’, 20 September, online: https://www.rt.com/news/359990-russia-denies-aleppo-strike/

Sanchez, Raf (2016) ‘UN says armed Syrian groups blocking Aleppo aid for ‘political gain’, UK telegraph, 14 September, online: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/14/un-says-armed-syrian-groups-blocking-aid-to-aleppo-for-political/

SOTT (2016) ‘Keeping their word: No Russian or Syrian airstrikes on Aleppo for 7 days, humanitarian corridors open’, SOTT News, 25 October, online: https://www.sott.net/article/332069-Keeping-their-word-No-Russian-or-Syrian-airstrikes-on-Aleppo-for-7-days-humanitarian-corridors-open

UNGA (2017) ‘Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’, 34th session, A/HRC/34/64, 2 February, online: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/026/63/PDF/G1702663.pdf?OpenElement