Russia said yesterday the Syrian regime had handed over new evidence implicating rebels in a deadly poison gas attack, as divisions re-emerged between Moscow and the West after a landmark deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.
Despite a weekend agreement between the US and Russia aimed at dismantling Syria’s chemical arsenal by the middle of next year, the two sides remained at loggerheads in their assessment of the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus that left hundreds of people dead.
While US President Barack Obama said it was “inconceivable” that anyone other than the Syrian regime could have carried out the attack, Russia slammed as “biased and one-sided” a UN report that the West says proves the regime’s guilt.
Aake Sellstroem, who led the UN team that compiled the report, said that the inspectors would be returning to Syria “soon” to investigate further allegations of chemical weapons use.
Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov said yesterday after the first of two days of talks in Damascus that the Syrian regime has handed Russia new materials implicating rebels in the attack that horrified the world.
“The corresponding materials were handed to the Russian side. We were told that they were evidence that the rebels are implicated in the chemical attack,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS news agencies after talks with Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Muallem late on Tuesday.
He said Russia would “examine the Syrian materials implicating the rebels with the utmost seriousness.”
To the fury of the West, Russia has repeatedly expressed suspicion that the chemical attack was a “provocation” staged by the rebels with the aim of attracting Western military intervention in the conflict.
Ryabkov also said Russia was disappointed with the report into the chemical weapons attack published by UN inspectors this week, saying it was selective and had ignored other episodes.
“Without a full picture ... we cannot describe the character of the conclusions as anything other than politicized, biased and one-sided,” he said, quoted by RIA Novosti.
The US and its allies maintain the attack was carried out by Syrian government forces, and believe the assessment released by UN experts on Monday backed their view.
“When you look at the details of the evidence they present — it is inconceivable that anybody other than the regime used” the chemical weapons, Obama said in an interview on the Spanish-language Telemundo network.
Ryabkov is on a visit to Damascus to emphasize to the Syrian regime the importance of implementing “swiftly and strictly” the agreement between Moscow and Washington to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.
The Russian embassy confirmed he had met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus yesterday, without giving further details, RIA Novosti said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday he would meet the foreign ministers of the five key nations in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, and three days later, with the top diplomats of the US and Russia, to help resolve the Syria crisis.