UN chemical weapons investigators will not explicitly pin the blame on anyone in their upcoming report on the Aug. 21 poison gas attack in Syria, but diplomats say their factual reporting alone could suggest which side in the country’s civil war was responsible.
The report could easily become a bargaining chip in talks between Moscow and Western powers on conditions for Syria to give up its chemical weapons and the terms of a UN Security Council resolution on the matter.
Two Western diplomats said they strongly expected chief UN investigator Ake Sellstrom’s report would confirm the US view that sarin gas was used in the attack on suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds.
One diplomat said there was a good chance the report would come out on Monday, while others predicted it could come any time from this weekend to next week.
While Sellstrom’s report will not explicitly assign blame, Western diplomats said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been highly critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government during the two-and-a-half-year war, may choose to say whether or not he feels the facts suggest al-Assad’s forces were responsible.
“We expect it [the report] will have a narrative of evidence,” one UN official said.
A third Western diplomat said the report will not directly accuse anyone of carrying out the attack, but it may include facts that suggest blame.
Two Western diplomats following the issue said they expected those facts would indirectly point in the direction of the Syrian government. They declined to elaborate.
Foreign Policy’s blog “The Cable” cited diplomats on Wednesday voicing similar views — that the facts in Sellstrom’s report would suggest the al-Assad government’s culpability.
Such facts could include the trajectories of the projectiles loaded with gas, indicating whether they came from government or rebel-held areas. It could also involve looking at the areas that were attacked, the types of weapons used, the quality and concentration of any chemical toxin traces and other facts.
“While Sellstrom may not say who’s to blame, there’s nothing stopping the secretary-general from interpreting the facts and saying that blame appears to point in a certain direction,” the third diplomat said.
The UN has repeatedly declined to comment on the expected contents of the report.
Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Washington says forces loyal to al-Assad launched the attack, which US officials say used the deadly nerve agent sarin and killed over 1,400 people, many of them children.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an opinion piece in the New York Times, confirmed Moscow’s view that there was “every reason to believe” the poison gas was used by rebels. That is the Syrian government’s position as well.
The attack may have been the worst use of nerve agents since the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 when thousands of Kurds were killed by chemical weapons, most notably in the town of Halabja.