Russian Foreign Ministry: comments on French report, calls again for onsite OPCW investigation in Syria and an end to “dishonourable political games”

From the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation
April 27, 2017

A report by the French intelligence services containing France’s conclusions about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun in Idlib Province, Syria, has been released in Paris. France is the third country after Turkey and Britain to have conducted a probe into the chemical attack. The impression is that the above countries either do not trust the OPCW or are trying to steer its investigation in a particular direction.

Even the initial analysis of the five-page French document has raised quite a few questions. First, it begs the question as to the circumstances under which France has obtained samples that it claims were taken directly at the scene of the incident. If they were taken by the French intelligence services themselves, it means they have free access to an area controlled, according to the report, by the armed groups of Syrian opposition forces linked to al-Qaeda. If the samples were obtained from a different site located, for example, on the territory of one of Syria’s neighbours, the credibility of the analysis carried out by France would immediately be called into question.

It should be said again that in keeping with the international rules, the integrity of samples taken for analysis must be ensured all the way from the scene of an incident to the laboratory.

In a bid to prove that sarin gas that was allegedly used in Khan Shaykhun was produced in Syria, the contributors to the report refer to the sarin gas formulation, saying it points to the use of the techniques developed in Syrian laboratories. It remains unclear why they are so confident since Syria has never possessed sarin gas as a finished product – they had only the precursor ingredients for this gas, the entire arsenal of which was taken out of Syria in 2014. The mobile installations that could be used to synthesise sarin have been destroyed and this has also been confirmed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The only evidence produced by the report’s authors is the alleged similarity between the results of the analysis that has recently been carried out and those obtained by France in 2013 when it tested samples taken at the site of another incident that was also associated with the use of sarin gas. However, this argument looks inconclusive because in 2013 the UN mission failed to either independently confirm the information contained in the French report about the incident in Saraqeb or check on compliance with the procedure for ensuring the integrity of evidence, including during the transportation of the samples taken at the scene of the incident. The only material evidence which the contributors to the report refer to is a hand-grenade filled, judging by the photograph, with sarin gas, which was allegedly dropped from a Syrian helicopter. Using a grenade to deliver sarin gas is something altogether new and, as far as we know, without precedent in the history of chemical weapons. To put it mildly, this exotic chemical piece of ammunition is not safe for those who use it.

In short, there are many obvious discrepancies which testify to the poor quality of the investigation. The only real possibility of establishing the truth would be to send the OPCW fact-finding mission to Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat Airbase, where sarin gas that has been used in Khan Shaykhun was allegedly stored, to conduct a field investigation, using all the procedures provided for in the Chemical Weapons Convention and this mission’s mandate. It is also important that the make-up of the mission fully complies with Paragraph 8 of the mandate, under which the geographical basis for forming groups of experts should be as representative as possible. Only in this case, all the countries will be able to give credence to the conclusions of the international probe.

This was the aim of the draft proposal submitted recently by Russia and Iran at a special session of the OPCW Executive Committee. Regretfully, it has been vetoed primarily by Western countries, including France, which has carried out its own investigation – as an alternative to an unbiased international probe – and, frankly speaking, in terms of its professionalism, it was not perfect.

We are calling again to abandon the dishonourable political games involving the Syrian chemical track record and take the steps which Russia has been insisting on for three weeks now, that is, to send a group of specialists directly to Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat Airbase which will include  representatives of countries not blinded by the hatred of the legitimate Syrian Government.

http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2739484

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Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, April 21

From Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation

April 21, 2017

On April 21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a call initiated by the American side.

When discussing international issues, Minister Lavrov expressed his regret that the United States spoke at the OPCW special meeting against Russia’s initiative to send inspectors to Syria to verify allegations of the use of sarin in the town of Khan Sheikhun on April 4 and the presence of chemical warfare agents at Shayrat Airbase in Syria. The sides agreed to examine once again the possibility of carrying out an objective investigation into the incident under the auspices of the OPCW.

Some bilateral issues were considered as well. Minister Lavrov reiterated the demand that Russian diplomatic property in the United States illegally seized by the Obama Administration be returned. The parties agreed that a joint working group at the level of deputy foreign ministers will begin work soon to find ways to remove irritants from bilateral relations.

http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2735390

Syria chemical weapons attack: without any in situ inspection, OPCW attests “incontrovertible sarin exposure”

Global Research, April 22, 2017

Without Any In Situ Inspection, OPCW Confirms Sarin Exposure During the Explosion That Took Place in Idlib (Syria) Last April 4th

On April 19, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), confirmed that “the analysis indicate that the victims were exposed to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance” during the events occurred in Idlib, Syria, last April 4th (see full text of the press release issued a the end of this note).

The explosion that took place in Syria last April 4th has been followed 48 hours later by a missiles strike of United States, with 59 Tomahawk missiles sent to the Syrian aerial base to which, in accordance to United States intelligence report (see full text), the alleged “chemical weapon attack” has been carried out by Syrian airforces. This strike constitutes a clear violation of United Nations Charter, as no military action can be taken without prior approval of UN Security Council. See on this particular point the analysis published by Professor Marko Milanovic (University of Nottingham) entitled: “The Clearly Illegal US Missile Strike in Syria” published by EJIL-Talk.

A well known scientist from MIT (Massachusetts), Theodor Postol has analyzed the intelligence report issued by United States, and has expressed some doubts about the United States thesis and conclusions on direct responsibility of Syria (see Postol´analysis published by GlobalResearch in which we read that:

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Russian Foreign Ministry criticism of OPCW session on Syrian chemical attack: no evidence collected at location, no investigation at the site, no interest in the truth, serious damage and disruption to OPCW work

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

April 20, 2017

Comment by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov for TASS on the OPCW Executive Council session

The outcome of today’s vote at a special session of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council shows that the Western group of countries and some of the states that joined it are not interested in establishing the truth. They failed to demonstrate their willingness to take the only right step in this situation, specifically, to send a team of investigators to the scene of the chemical incident in Khan Sheikhun and to the Al-Shayrat air base, from which the alleged “chemical attack” was supposedly carried out, as they claim. Those countries continue to stick to their line, disregarding any argument, and continue to impose on the international community the same pseudo conclusions that they pushed on the UN Security Council.

They do not need the truth. For them, everything has been settled: Damascus is to blame, according to them, and Moscow, they say, is just obscuring the matter, preventing the OPCW from doing its job.

However, without collecting evidence at the location and establishing the facts, all their accusations against the legitimate government of Syria remain groundless. The West always has its own “pocket” specialists on hand, who are ready to write any report at the first signal and fit pseudo evidence into pre-formulated conclusions. Today, our diplomats in The Hague and the Russian Defence Ministry’s official representative talked about this amply and convincingly.

We are grateful to the countries that supported the joint Russian-Iranian draft solution. We heard many reasonable arguments in statements by representatives of the countries that abstained from voting.

And we strongly condemn the irresponsible stance of those that voted against it. The Western group has once again revealed the essence of its destructive approach.

These countries caused serious damage to the reputation and authority of the OPCW. By disrupting this badly needed process, they have again complicated the search for a way out of the Syrian crisis.

http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2734389

Syria: OPCW’s block of on-site probe of chemical incident shows Western powers now aiming to oust Assad – Lavrov

From RT
April 21, 2017

The attempt by Western countries to derail Russia’s fact-finding initiative in Syria to examine the site of the chemical incident in Idlib province exposes their aim to topple the Syrian government, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

READ MORE: Russia questions Britain’s chemical weapons investigation in Syria

“I believe that it’s a very serious situation, because now it’s obvious that false information about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is being used to move away from implementing Resolution 2254, which stipulates a political settlement with the participation of all the Syrian parties, and aims to switch to the long-cherished idea of regime change,” Lavrov said, speaking at a press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Astana.

UNSC Resolution 2254 calls for an inclusive government in Syria and a peace process that would involve a new constitution and free and fair elections.

According to the minister, the decision displayed “complete incompetence” on the part of his Western colleagues, who, in fact, are “prohibiting the OPCW from sending their experts to the site of the incident, as well as to the airfield from where aircraft loaded with chemical weapons allegedly flew out.”

“Yesterday [April 20], our proposal that experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] visit the sites of the suspected chemical attack in Syria was blocked by Western delegations without any explanations,” Lavrov said.

In the meantime, the UK and France claim their experts have received samples from the site of the incident, Lavrov added.

READ MORE: UN doesn’t send experts to Idlib ‘chemical incident’ site as West & US are blocking it – Assad

“London, Paris, and the OPCW have given no answers to our questions as to where they took these samples, who took them, or when they were delivered,” Lavrov stated.

“I think we are very close to this organization [OPCW] being discredited,” Lavrov added.

On Thursday, the OPCW’s executive council overwhelmingly rejected a proposal from Russia and Iran for a new investigation into the Idlib chemical incident.

The proposal had been amended to agree to Western demands that the investigation into the alleged attack be carried out by the existing OPCW fact-finding mission, but was defeated nonetheless.

The draft proposal seen by AFP called on the OPCW “to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhoun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident.”

Both OPCW fact-checking missions tasked with looking into the Idlib incident are being headed by UK citizens, which Lavrov called “a very strange coincidence” that “runs contrary to the principles of an international organization.”

Earlier in April, an incident in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun reportedly killed as many as 100 people and injured several hundred. The US has squarely laid the blame on Damascus, claiming that it hid chemical weapons stockpiles from the OPCW after pledging to hand them over in 2013.

Moscow, however, said a thorough investigation, including an on-site inspection in rebel-held territory, should be carried out before jumping to any conclusions. Russia has cautioned that the incident may have been a false flag operation meant to provoke a US attack against Syrian government forces.

https://www.rt.com/news/385515-lavrov-opcw-mission-syria-blocked/

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