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Russian, French Foreign Ministers Differ Over Chemical Attack In Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius at a news conference in Moscow on September 17
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Russia has "serious grounds" to believe that a chemical-weapons attack that occurred near Damascus last month was a provocation.

A report issued on September 16 by a team of UN inspectors found that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that chemical weapons were used "on a relatively large scale" against civilians, including children, in the August 21 attack near Damascus, which reportedly killed more than 1,400 people.

The report, however, assigned no responsibility.

Speaking after meeting with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, on September 17 in Moscow, Lavrov told reporters that the report does not answer all Russian questions about the attack.

"We have serious grounds to believe that this was a provocation [by the rebels], and [yet] some of our partners have categorically stated that only the [Syrian] regime could have been the one that used these chemical weapons," he said.

Lavrov instead called for "an impartial, objective, professional investigation of the events of August 21."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, however, maintained that the UN report was convincing.

"When it comes to the [UN chemical weapons investigator Ake] Sellstrom, the head of the UN inspectors, report, we think that this report, as UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon said, is a very accusatory document," he said. "If we look at the amount of sarin used, the targets and the equipment that was needed, and other aspects, then we have no hesitations that the Syrian regime is behind these attacks on August 21."

Meanwhile, on September 17, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition -- Syria's main opposition group -- demanded swift international action following the release of the UN report.

The coalition said in a statement that the document offered "damning and irrefutable evidence" and clearly shows that only the Syrian regime could have carried out the attack last month.

Lavrov reiterated on September 17 that a UN Security Council resolution to implement an agreement to strip Syria of its chemical weapons would not be drawn under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which allows the use of force.

Lavrov said that, if Syria fails to cooperate, "then the UN Security Council will consider this situation."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the agreement with Lavrov last week in Geneva, has said the deal "fully commits the United States and Russia to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the event of noncompliance."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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