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WASHINGTON – The recent Syria-endorsed agreement between the United States and Russia regarding chemical weapons in Syria may be in jeopardy even before the United Nations Security Council considers it.
It seems that both sides are adding requirements.
The U.S., Britain and France insist that the resolution under consideration by the Security Council include a commitment to the use of force if Syria does not comply with strict terms under which the U.S. put off military action.
The provision, however, assumes that the Syrian government was responsible for the Aug. 21 sarin chemical weapons attack on a Syrian opposition-held area on the outskirts of Damascus.
According to various sources, as many as 1,400 people were killed, including more than 400 children.
At the time of the attack, U.N. inspectors were in Syria to investigate a prior chemical weapons attack that had occurred last March in the major Syrian city of Aleppo.
Among the casualties were 26 civilians and 15 Syrian government troops. An initial U.N. investigation suggested strong evidence pointing to Islamic foreign forces of the Syrian opposition as the source of the poison gas attack.
The Russians, who insist the Syrian government had nothing to do with the Aug. 21 sarin attack, now have presented documentation of alleged Syrian opposition use of chemical weapons. And that could thwart passage of a Security Council resolution and jeopardize the U.S.-Russia agreement itself.
Now, Russia has signaled it might veto the Security Council if the demand for military action remains in the draft resolution. China, also a permanent member of the Security Council, has signaled that it, too, will veto the resolution.
Sources say Russia’s and China’s position could indicate how Russian officials will respond if the Syrian government fails to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.
However, Moscow has put pressure on Damascus not only to agree to turn over its chemical weapons stockpiles to international control but has agreed with the U.S. to send in inspectors to neutralize the chemical weapons and ultimately remove them from the country.
Such an effort would be monumental, considering it would be carried out amid the Syrian civil war.
The U.S. wants the weapons removed by mid-2014. Experts, however, estimate that it could take years.
The timetable also has opened the question of protecting the hundreds of inspectors that would be needed to visit some 50 separate sites to neutralize and ultimately remove some 1,000 tons of poison gas stockpiles.
Syria already is missing the first deadline to provide a complete list of all its chemical weapons, their locations and their state of readiness.
The State Department, however, hinted that it isn’t holding Syria to the Sept 21 deadline, as long as there is “forward momentum.”
“We’ve never said it was a hard and fast deadline,” State spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
The potential delay in any resolution comes as the U.N. issued a 38-page report citing what officials call “clear and convincing evidence” of the use of nerve gas sarin in several areas around Damascus on Aug. 21.
The report was developed by a team of U.N. inspectors sent in to investigate the attack.
The United Nations, however, didn’t have a mandate from the General Assembly to assign blame for the attack. The team’s only purpose was to determine whether or not sarin was used. The implication in the report, however, was that the origin of the sarin used in the attack was the Syrian government.
The Russians, however, complained about the U.N. findings.
“We are unhappy about this report,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. “We think that the report was distorted.
“It was one-sided,” he said. “The basis of information upon which it is built is insufficient. …Without receiving a full picture of what is happening here, it is impossible to call the nature of the conclusions reached by the U.N. experts … anything but politicized, preconceived and one-sided.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asserts that the U.S. has evidence that the attack was initiated by Syrian government troops at one of its compounds. However, he hasn’t produced details to support the U.S. position.
The Russians in a 100-page report pointing to Syrian opposition forces, however, assert that the foreign fighters allied with the opposition not only had the capability but carried out the attack.
Sources say the Russian information quotes a defector who pointed to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein loyalists as the source of the sarin.
The defector, who was an aide to Izzi Ibrihim al-Douri, a former high-level official to Hussein, said the sarin was produced in a predominantly Sunni province of northwestern Iraq.
The poison gas then was transported to Turkey where it was disseminated to foreign fighters who allegedly launched the March chemical weapons attack on Aleppo.
Separately, WND has obtained information from U.S. military intelligence sources which bolster this claim.
Military sources say that elements of al-Qaida in Iraq and the Jabhat al-Nusra Front associated with the Syrian opposition had acquired sarin from Iraq produced by Sunni elements linked to AQI.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that once the Security Council convenes to discuss a resolution, the Russian government will make known the findings from its own investigation.
However, sources say the fact that the Russians claim that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wasn’t responsible for the Aug. 21 attack suggests the Kremlin may ignore any non-compliance or cheating on any agreement by Assad.
Even Assad said that implementation of the U.S.-Russia agreement could take a year, which sources suggest is a signal from Damascus to drag it feet, although experts say that the task is daunting and could take years.
All that the Russians want in a resolution is language that mirrors the U.S.-Russia agreement. Moscow doesn’t want language inserted on a commitment to U.S. military action if Assad doesn’t meet deadlines.
The other factor in determining whether a resolution can be passed is if the U.S. and its allies determine that the U.N. report was incomplete in not attributing blame.
Then, the fingers pointing back and forth will resume, with no agreement on the U.N. resolution and the U.S.-Russian agreement on which the resolution is based at risk.