A senior U.S. disarmament official says Russia has violated its commitments as guarantor of the destruction of Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile and failed to prevent President Bashar al-Assad's government from using them.
Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, spoke to reporters in Geneva on February 28 following new reports of chlorine gas being used on civilians by Syrian forces, which the government denies.
"Russia is on the wrong side of history with regard to chemical-weapons use in Syria," Wood said.
He made the comments shortly before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing the UN-sponsored disarmament conference in Geneva, asserted that Syria had eliminated its chemical-weapons stockpiles and placed them under international control.
Lavrov also accused the United States and its allies of "simply exploiting baseless allegations of toxic-weapons use by Damascus as a tool of anti-Syrian political engineering."
Syrian Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala told the conference that his government “cannot possibly be using chemical weapons because it very simply has none in its possession.”
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Russia was ultimately to blame for any use of chemical weapons in Syria, and accused Moscow of violating a 2013 accord with Washington on the removal of chemical weapons from Syria.
Syria signed up to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and agreed to the destruction of its declared chemical arms stocks after a Sarin nerve-agent attack killed hundreds of people in rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.
Assad's forces have repeatedly been accused of using banned chemical weapons in the conflict since then, including on February 25 in the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.
Moscow has called the reports "fake stories," despite videos and various photos of alleged victims of the attack being shown in the media.
Russia has given Assad's government crucial support throughout Syria's seven-year civil war, which began with a government crackdown on peaceful protests.
North Korean Chemical 'Coaches'
Meanwhile, U.S. media reported on February 27 that North Korea had been sending missile specialists to Syria as well as equipment that could be used in the production of chemical weapons.
The reports said UN experts found more than 40 previously unreported shipments of such supplies to Syria between 2012 and 2017.
The materials said to have been illicitly sent to Syria included acid-resistant tiles, corrosion-resistant valves, and thermometers.
Wood, the U.S. envoy, did not comment on the actual UN report, but he told reporters in Geneva, "Clearly there has been a history of a relationship between North Korea and Syria with regard to missile activity, chemical weapons components."
An unreleased UN report assessing North Korea's compliance with UN resolutions says an unnamed UN member state has spotted North Korean technicians at Syrian chemical-weapons and missile facilities.
Damascus is said to have told the UN experts that the North Koreans present in Syria are sports coaches and athletes.
Experts say that North Korea, which is under international sanctions over its nuclear and missile program, has long offered military supplies and weapons know-how around the world in exchange for cash.
With reporting by Reuters, TASS, AP, The New York Times, and the BBC