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Syria Thanks Russia, Gives 'New Evidence' Rebels Behind Chemical Attack

  • RFE/RL

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (left) meets with Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem in Damascus on September 17.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (left) meets with Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem in Damascus on September 17.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has thanked Syria's main ally Russia for supporting his regime and said Moscow is helping "create...a new global balance."

Assad's statement on state television came during a meeting with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on September 18 in Damascus.

Ryabkov earlier the same day told Russian media he had received from Assad's government "evidence" that Syrian rebels were implicated in the August 21 chemical attack near Damascus that allegedly killed more than 1,400 people.

"We were told that [the materials produced by Damascus] were evidence that the rebels are implicated in the chemical attack," he said following talks in Damascus with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.

The Russian diplomat said Moscow would examine the Syrian materials "with the utmost seriousness."

Ryabkov added that Russia was disappointed with a UN report into the chemical-weapons attack, calling it "politicized, biased, and one-sided."

The United Nations countered that the report by its weapons experts was "thoroughly objective" and its findings "indisputable."

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky on September 18 brushed aside the Russian criticism, saying that the facts "speak for themselves." He said that the report's conclusion that rockets loaded with sarin gas were used in the August 21 attack should not be questioned.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the report had not dispelled Russia's suspicion that rebels staged the attack to try to provoke Western military intervention in the Syria conflict. The report does not assign responsibility.

Western allies say the report proves the Syrian regime was behind the attack. But Moscow has repeatedly expressed suspicion that the chemical attack was a "provocation" staged by the rebels in order to trigger a Western military intervention.

Chemical Inspections

Ryabkov is in Damascus to discuss with the Syrian regime the agreement between Moscow and Washington reached in Geneva over the weekend to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

The agreement is aimed at warding off the threat of a U.S.-led military strike as retribution for the chemical attack, which the West blames on Assad's regime.

The first step in the agreement provides for Syria handing over details of its chemical weapons stockpile to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons within a week.

Ryabkov said he emphasized to Muallem the importance of the Syrian side "strictly and swiftly" fulfilling the first step.

Meanwhile, Ake Sellstrom, the chief UN chemical-weapons inspector, said on September 18 his team will return to Syria "within weeks" to complete an investigation it had started before August 21 of other alleged chemical-weapons attacks in the country.

Sellstrom's team went to Damascus on August 18 to investigate claims that chemical weapons were used near Aleppo in March, and at two other sites. The team was in Damascus on August 21 when the attack on the opposition-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta occurred.

The experts were immediately ordered to concentrate on the Ghouta attack and were expected to return later to investigate the other sites.

No Progress In Talks

On September 17, envoys from the five permanent Security Council members met at the United Nations to discuss a resolution to implement a U.S.-Russia plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

However, little progress was made at the talks, which are due to resume on September 18.

Ahead of the first day of those talks, Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad al-Jarba called on the UN Security Council to make sure the Assad regime doesn't get away with using chemical weapons.

"We don't want history to say that in the 21st century, a regime dared to use internationally banned weapons and escaped punishment," Jarba said. "We don't want to see a humanitarian issue ignored because of the reluctance of parliaments and the delay of the role of the Security Council, which is responsible for ensuring global peace and stability."

Speaking after talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London on September 18, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the military option should stay open.

"I do believe that the credible threat of military action was the reason why diplomacy got a chance and I think in order to keep momentum in the diplomatic and political process the military option should still be on the table," Rasmussen said.

France, Britain, and the United States want a resolution that contains the threat of military action.

However, on September 18 Ryabkov said he assured the Syrian side that there was "no basis" for the UN Security Council resolution on the chemical-weapons agreement to invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows the use of force and tough sanctions.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and BBC