U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said Russia is ultimately to blame for any use of chemical weapons in Syria, amid reports of a suspected chemical attack this week near Damascus.
Tillerson spoke on January 23 in Paris, where 24 countries, including the United States and France, launched a new organization whose aim is to identify and punish those who use chemical weapons.
Tillerson said Russia is violating a 2013 agreement it reached with the United States on the removal of chemical weapons from Syria.
He also said Moscow is helping the Syrian government breach the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans their use.
Tillerson said Russia must refrain from vetoing UN Security Council resolutions on holding the users of chemical weapons accountable.
"There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the United States as a framework guarantor" of the 2013 agreement, Tillerson said.
"Russia's failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its relevance to the resolution of the overall crisis. At a bare minimum, Russia must stop vetoing and at least abstain on future UNSC resolutions on this issue," he said.
The new organization, the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, intends to publish information about chemical attacks to name and shame perpetrators and eventually punish them. UN efforts to sanction perpetrators in Syria have failed, repeatedly blocked by Russia.
The French Foreign Ministry said the new group “in no way intends to replace existing international mechanisms, nor does it plan to conduct its own investigations.”
But the initiative drew a vocal objection from Russia, which Western governments say has used its clout to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government from punishment for chemical attacks.
Speaking on January 23, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the initiative was “a direct encroachment on the prerogatives of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and a blow to the UN platform."
Activists and rescue teams said the Syrian government is suspected of using poisonous gas that affected nearly 20 civilians in a rebel-held suburb near Damascus on January 22. Syria denies using chemical weapons, while Moscow says extremists have used chemical weapons in the past.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, "Those who carry out chemical weapons attacks need to be made aware that we know who they are, and we will go after them."
With reporting by AP and AFP