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Britain, U.S. Assail Russia At UN Over Nerve-Agent Attack


Britain's ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, assails Russia over the nerve-agent attack. (file photo)

Britain and the United States have lashed out harshly against Russia at the United Nations, accusing Moscow of carrying out a chemical attack with a military-grade nerve agent on British soil, and then trying to use both the UN Security Council and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to undermine any independent investigation.

"We all know why that investigation is under way. It's because a military-grade nerve agent was used in an attempt to kill civilians on British soil," Britain's UN ambassador Karen Pierce told the council on April 5.

"It was carried out recklessly and it was carried out without regard to public safety. It was a weapon of mass destruction," Pierce said.

Kelley Currie, a U.S. envoy at the meeting, said Washington and Britain share a "firm belief that Russia is responsible for this chemical weapons attack on U.K. soil. Either Russia deliberately used this military-grade weapon or failed to declare and secure its stocks of this nerve agent."

"Russia is known to have developed military-grade nerve agents of the type used in the Salisbury attack" against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Currie said.

"Russia has a well-documented record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, including previously in the United Kingdom. High-ranking Russian officials have themselves made clear in public statements that defectors and so-called traitors are legitimate targets for assassination."

British Prime Minister Theresa May in Salisbury at the site of the poisoning. (file photo)
British Prime Minister Theresa May in Salisbury at the site of the poisoning. (file photo)

Currie, the U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council, said that "Russia tried to get the OPCW to adopt a decision that would have undermined its ongoing independent investigation into the Salisbury attack and that would have helped Russia disguise its culpability."

After the members of the OPCW Executive Council overwhelmingly rejected Russia's proposal, Currie said, Russia now "wants to try again at the [UN] Security Council. But the truth of Russia's involvement in the Salisbury attack remains, and the international community should remain united behind this truth."

Pierce, the British ambassador, also lashed back against remarks made earlier by Russia's UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, who accused Britain of using Nazi tactics to conduct a "propaganda war" against Moscow.

"I won't take any lectures on morality or on our responsibilities from a country that, as this council debated yesterday, has done so much to block the proper investigation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria," Pierce said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on April 5.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on April 5.

Currie also accused Moscow of putting forward "a series of conspiracy theories in an attempt to shift blame with wild claims that the U.K. or the United States might be responsible. This disinformation and projection coming from our Russian colleagues is preposterous. Member states should not be fooled or led astray by these absurd efforts to dissemble from the facts."

Nebenzya, who spoke at the Security Council meeting before the U.S. and U.K. envoys, said "Great Britain refuses to cooperate with us on the pretext that the victim does not cooperate with the criminal. A crime was committed on British territory, possibly a terrorist act, and it is our citizens who are the victims,” he said.

He accused Britain of leading a “coordinated” campaign to “discredit and delegitimize Russia” with its claims that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent attack.

"It's some sort of theater of the absurd. Couldn't you come up with a better fake story?" he said. "We have told our British colleagues that 'you're playing with fire and you'll be sorry.'"

But Pierce questioned why Russia should be an investigator of a crime in which the Russian state, itself, is the primary suspect.

Russia had called for the Security Council session in a bid to launch a UN investigation into the March 4 attack on the Skripals, one day after losing a bid to be part of a joint investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog.

Russia has insisted it was not behind the attack in Salisbury, England.

Russia and Britain already have suspended high-level contacts, and more than two dozen Western countries have joined Britain in expelling over 150 diplomats in retaliation for the poisonings, with Russia responding in kind.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson welcomed Russia's defeat April 4 in its bid to be involved in a joint investigation of the incident with Britain, which was turned down on a 15-6 vote at a meeting of the decision-making body of the OPCW.

"Russia has had one goal in mind since the attempted murders on U.K. soil through the use of a military-grade chemical weapon - to obscure the truth and confuse the public," Johnson said in a statement.

But Russia's ambassador to the organization, Aleksandr Shulgin, said the vote failed to reach a "qualified majority" because only 21 of the executive body's 41 members voted on the Russian proposal.

Of the 38 members present for the vote, 17 abstained. Russia was joined by China, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Algeria, and Iran in voting for its proposal.

"A qualified majority was needed," Shulgin said, asserting that "more than half" of the chemical organization members -- including those who abstained -- had doubts about Britain's allegations and "refused to associate themselves with the West's point of view."

Hours before the UN Security Council meeting in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on April 5 that the West cannot ignore Moscow's questions over the poisonings, as he called for a "substantial and responsible" probe into the case.

Lavrov also told a security conference in Moscow on April 5 that the incident was "orchestrated" to justify the expulsion of Russian diplomats from countries across the world.

Earlier in the day, buses believed to be carrying expelled American diplomats and their families departed from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Russia has ordered 60 U.S. diplomats to leave the country in retaliation for the United States expelling the same number of Russians.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on April 4 said the attack on the Skripals was part of a "dangerous trend" of increasing chemical weapons use around the world.

She accused Russia of making the world "a far more dangerous place" by not only allegedly poisoning the Skripals but by shielding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from sanctions at the UN over his alleged use of chemical weapons in his nation's seven-year civil war.

Haley made her remarks on the one-year anniversary of a major chemical attack in Syria in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, where nearly 100 people were killed by the nerve agent sarin.

An attempt by the UN council to censure Syria over the attack was blocked repeatedly by Russia last year, which also prevented the council from renewing the mandate of a UN panel set up to investigate such chemical attacks in Syria.

"There should be no more victims of chemical weapons attacks, whether they take place in the war zone of Syria or in an English country town," said Pierce, the British ambassador

Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 4 retracted previous calls by his spokesman for an apology from the West over the incident.

"We are just expecting reason to prevail so that international relations don't sustain damage like what we have seen recently," he said after a summit in Ankara, Turkey.

"This not only concerns the assassination attempt on Skripal, but also all other aspects of international relations," he said.

"We need to work within the framework of sound political processes, founded on fundamental norms of international law, and this will make the world a more stable and predictable place," Putin said.​

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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