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U.N. Chief Hates the White House’s Plan to Arm Syria’s Rebels

U.N. Chief Hates the White House’s Plan to Arm Syria’s Rebels

U.N. Secretary Ban Ki moon registered concern today about the foreign supply of weapons to Syrian combatants, placing the top U.N. official at odds with the Obama administration as it presses ahead with plans to arm the rebels.

"I have been making it consistently clear that providing arms to either side would not address the current situation," he said in a press conference at U.N. headquarters. "There is no such military solution. Only a political solution can address the issue sustainably." Ban initially misspoke saying that "stemming the flow of arms to either side would not be helpful."

Ban did not directly criticize the U.S. decision to step up its support for the armed opposition, but he made it clear that he believes it will complicate efforts to promote efforts a political solution to the crisis.

"There is no military solution to this conflict, even if both the government and the opposition, and their supporters, think there can be, " Ban said. "The military path points directly towards the further disintegration of the country, destabilization of the region, and inflammation of religious and communal tensions."

Citing concern about the increasing pace of killing in Syria, Ban said that he is striving "very hard" to pave the way for a U.S.-Russian sponsored peace conference on Syria in Geneva. U.S. and Russian planning for the conference-which was initially planned for late May-has been stalled over differences about who should attend the conference and who would represent the combatants.

Ban’s remarks came shortly after he received a letter from the United States detailing new evidence it claims indicates that the Syrian authorities likely used the nerve agent sarin on a small scale. Ban voiced appreciation for the U.S. submission, but he cautioned that "any information on the alleged use of chemical weapons cannot be ensured without convincing evidence of the chain of custody." Establishing that, he explained, would require the U.N. chemical weapons team be granted access to Syria so it can "collect its own samples and establish the facts."

On March 20, Syrian authorities initially invited the U.N. chief to establish an "impartial" chemical weapons team to investigate its claims that Syrian rebels used chemical weapons in the village of Khan al Assal near Aleppo. Ban quickly established a team, headed by a Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom, to lead the investigation. But negotiations over access bogged down after Ban agree to a joint request by Britain and France to expand the inquiry to examine rebel claims that Syrian authorities used chemical weapons.

Ban and Susan E, Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, today pressed Syria to relent and to allow the chemical weapons team into the country. "We think it’s high time that that access be granted," Rice said in her final press appearance at U.N. headquarters as U.S. ambassador.

Russia, meanwhile, has expressed skepticism about the veracity of American claims.  "The contacts we have with American experts did not convince our experts that in  fact the information which was presented was convincing enough to come to a definitive conclusion that government forces used chemical weapons," Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin told reporters.

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