Britain claims new evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, appealed last week to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to expand his investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria to include three additional towns where rebels claimed nerve agents were used, a British official confirmed today. The appeal comes as the United States and Russia are preparing the ground ...
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, appealed last week to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to expand his investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria to include three additional towns where rebels claimed nerve agents were used, a British official confirmed today.
The appeal comes as the United States and Russia are preparing the ground for a major peace conference on Syria in Geneva, planned for June. The preparations for the Geneva talks have shifted the international debate away from talk of a U.S. military response to the use of chemicals weapons by the Syrian regime to U.S. and Russian efforts to fashion a political settlement.
In advance of those talks, Britain has sought to build up political pressure on Syria and its chief patron, Russia, to yield to international pressure to accept the establishment of a transitional government to replace President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime.
On Monday, Britain led diplomatic efforts in Brussels to block the extension of a European arms embargo on Syria, raising the prospect that European governments might ship arms to the Syrian rebels if political talks fail. And this morning, Britain’s U.N. envoy informed reporters about his government’s concerns over new possible use of chemical weapons.
In the British letter, Lyall Grant urged the U.N. chief to investigate rebel claims that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons in March in the town of Adra, near Damascus; in April in Darraya; and in late April in Saraquib, according to a diplomatic source familiar with the British account.
A spokeswoman for the British mission to the United Nations, Iona Thomas, declined to discuss the details of the information shared. But she said: "The United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the United Nations has written to the U.N. Secretary General to draw attention to three further allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria and have asked that they be included in the UN’s ongoing investigation."
The Syrian government first invited the United Nations to investigate possible chemical weapons use back in March. The regime accused the Syrian opposition of using chemical weapons during fighting in the town of Khan al-Asal near Aleppo on March 19, where 26 people were killed, including regime troops.
Britain and France countered with their own calls for investigations into the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government in and around the cities of Aleppo, Homs, and possibly Damascus.
Ban appointed a veteran Swedish chemical weapons expert, Ake Sellstrom, to investigate the allegations by the Syrian government and European powers. But Syria has not agreed to permit an investigation into the European claims and has not yet allowed the team into the country. Sellstrom, whose contract was recently extended until November, is seeking to collect as much evidence as possible outside the country, interviewing government officials with access to intelligence on Syria’s chemical weapons program, refugees, and other potential eyewitnesses who have left the country.
So far, Britain has written the U.N. chief four letters documenting its concerns about chemical weapons use in Syria. It is also sharing more detailed information on the latest three attacks with Sellstrom, according to a U.N. diplomat. But Britain has not made its findings public, making it impossible to verify the veracity of its claims that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
More from Foreign Policy
A New Multilateralism
How the United States can rejuvenate the global institutions it created.
America Prepares for a Pacific War With China It Doesn’t Want
Embedded with U.S. forces in the Pacific, I saw the dilemmas of deterrence firsthand.
The Endless Frustration of Chinese Diplomacy
Beijing’s representatives are always scared they could be the next to vanish.
The End of America’s Middle East
The region’s four major countries have all forfeited Washington’s trust.