UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council on Thursday rejected two rival resolutions that would have extended the mandate of an expert panel that has been investigating who carried out chemical weapons attacks in Syria’s civil war.
The two failed measures leave the expert panel’s fate unclear as its mandate expires this week. Council members were unsure whether the mandate expires at midnight Thursday or Friday.
Russia vetoed a U.S.-drafted resolution that would have given the Joint Investigative Mechanism another year to look into chemical weapons attacks in the war-torn country.
The organization, which comprises experts from the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has said it could attribute six attacks to the Syrian government and the Islamic State group, so far, over the course of the nearly seven-year war.
JIM leader Edmond Mulet has said that four attacks could be attributed to the Syrian government of Bashar Assad and two to ISIS.
In its seventh and most recent report, released in late October, the JIM attributed an April 4 sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun to forces loyal to the government and a Sept. 16, 2016, mustard gas attack in Um-Housh to ISIS, the militant group that has been trying to overthrow Assad.
The April 4 attack, which killed as many as 100 people, was the reason cited by President Donald Trump to launch nearly 60 cruise missiles onto a Syrian air base a few days later.
Frustrated by the veto on Thursday, where 11 members voted yes, Bolivia and Russia voted no and China and Egypt abstained, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened to strike Syria militarily again.
“Regardless of what its Russian protectors do here in the Security Council, the Assad regime should be on clear notice: the United States does not accept Syria’s use of chemical weapons,” she said. “As we did in April, we will do it again if we must. We will defend the international standard against chemical weapons use. It would be wise for the Assad regime to heed this warning.”
A short time after the U.S.-sponsored resolution was rejected, a resolution sponsored by Bolivia and backed by Russia failed to get enough votes to pass, and the United States was one of seven countries to vote against it.
A resolution needs at least nine yes votes and no vetoes from the five permanent members — Russia, the United States, France, Britain and China — to pass.
In the contentious, three-hour session at the UN’s Manhattan headquarters, Haley accused Russia of “playing games” and noted that it was the tenth time that Russia had exercised its veto since the Syrian war broke out.
“They want a JIM that doesn’t have independence,” she said. “They want a JIM that doesn’t have reporting. They want a JIM that they can micromanage. . . . What’s embarrassing is that we don’t have a JIM renewal.”
But Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who backed the Bolivia-drafted resolution, said his country wanted the JIM’s life to be extended — but that he could not support the U.S.-drafted resolution because the JIM lacked the professional standards in its current form to properly assign responsibility.
He said that the expert panel’s methodology and its conclusions — two years after Russia was among the Security Council members to approve the formation of the group — were flawed. He noted that the group was unable to visit some of the sites where it assigned blame and said some of its streams of logic defied the laws of physics.
“You bear the burden of the responsibility if the mechanism cannot be salvaged,” Nebenzia said. “Russia is doing everything to prevent that from happening.”
Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, defended Russia, his country’s most powerful backer in Assad’s war against rebels and militants, while saying the United States drive to blame Syria for the chemical weapons attacks smacks of the U.S. effort at the UN more than a decade ago to blame Iraq for possessing weapons of mass destruction to launch a war there in 2003.
“Russia, today, did not obstruct the work of the Security Council,” he said. “It worked on preventing another tragedy such as that we witnessed in Libya and Iraq. . . . The vote of the Russian Federation is saving the Security Council and preventing the manipulation of UN mechanisms.”