US Maintains Threat of War as UN Confirms Sarin Used
Official report confirms expectations, but culpability remains unclear
UPDATED (3:05 PM EST):
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power declared Monday that findings contained in the U.N.'s report about the use of chemical weapons in Syria last month should be seen as confirmation of U.S. claims that the forces of President Bashar al-Assad were behind the attack.
The report itself, however, makes no such claims (see below).
Power said that although negotiations between members of the U.N. Security Council are ongoing, the U.S. government will push to "impose measures under Chapter VII" if Syria does not dismantle its chemical weapons.
Critics have repeatedly argued that the constant threat of military action by the U.S. has hindered the progress towards a negotiated solution in Syria.
Chapter VII allows for the U.N. Security Council to authorize military force if the agreements contained in a council resolution are not adhered to.
Despite the repeated threat of force by Power, however, the U.S. cannot legally take military action without Security Council approval, because a Chapter VII resolution would have to receive unanimous approval among council members. Russia, who sits on the council, continues to resist a mandate for military action and has so far spearheaded efforts to bring Syria to the negotiating table over their weapons stockpile.
Powers, who said the report had only been given a brief review by the U.S. team so far, encouraged other countries to come to their own conclusions about who is responsible for the attack, stating: "Building on today's findings, we think it's very important for countries... to speak, and make public their conclusions. ... Our impression again is that the technical details will lend themselves to an even more unmistakable conclusion."
Though both said their review of the U.N. report was also "cursory," the U.K. and French governments joined the U.S. in placing the blame of the attack squarely on the Assad forces.
Speaking just ahead of Power, British Ambassador to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant told reporters there was "no remaining doubt that it was the [Assad] regime" that was behind the attack.
UPDATE (1:00 PM EST):
At a press conference Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that the team investigating the Al-Ghouta massacre concluded that sarin had been used. Ki-moon also confirmed that the team did not reach findings regarding culpability. "It is for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further regarding responsibility," he stated.
Ki-moon announced, "I stand ready to convene an international conference on Syria as soon as possible."
When pressed by a reporter to outline the U.N.'s plan to hold the perpetrator accountable, Ki-moon responded, "Those perpetrators who have used chem weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction will have to be brought to justice... How to do and how to promote this and when to do this, this is the content of ongoing discussions in the security council."
Coming as no surprise, the United Nations team investigating the August 21st Al-Ghouta massacre in Syria reports that sarin gas was the chemical weapon used in the attack.
As has been well-established and repeatedly stated since their investigation began, the U.N. team's only mandate was to determine the nature of the weapons used. The investigators were not tasked with drawing conclusions about who may have launched the attack or the circumstances under which it was carried out.
It is not yet clear if the investigators came to any findings on whether the attack was ordered by President Bashar al-Assad or forces aligned against his government.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the report from the U.N. team on Sunday, and its full findings will be released later on Monday, Reuters reports.
While the complete contents of the report are still unknown, media outlets were able to zoom-in on a photograph of chief chemical weapons investigator Ake Sellstrom handing his report to the U.N. chief.
"On the basis of the evidence obtained during the investigation of the Ghouta incident, the conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic ... against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale," the report reads.
"In particular the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface to surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used," it continues.
The Syrian and Russian governments both charge that opposition forces to al-Assad used the chemical weapons, while Western powers—including the United States—insist that al-Assad's forces are responsible. To date, culpability has not be definitively proven either way.