MOSCOW - Russia and France on Tuesday admitted they still had differences over how to solve the Syrian conflict ahead of a debate in the UN Security Council over stripping the country of its chemical arsenal.
After meeting in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French counterpart Laurent Fabius said they had differing visions of how to proceed toward the common goal of a peaceful and chemical weapons-free Syria.
Russia also strongly rejected claims by both France and the United States that a UN report released on a sarin attack outside Damascus on August 21 placed the blame with the Syrian government. Despite sharing the same goal of destroying Syria’s weapons and holding an eventual peace conference, “we have differences over how to achieve it,” Lavrov said.
He added that the UN report “proves that chemical weapons were used” but does not prove that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was behind it. “There is still no answer to the question of where the missile (used in the August 21 attack) was produced,” he said. Russia still has “most serious basis to believe that this was a provocation,” Lavrov said of the attack. He called on world powers not to “play up emotions” when making decisions, but rather “rely on professionals”. Fabius said however that the UN report left “no doubt that the Damascus regime was responsible” for the chemical attack. He said there was a “difference in approach” between France and Russia on the methods required to reach peace but the two sides were “perfectly agreed” on the need for a political solution.
Lavrov and Fabius met in Moscow a day after France, the United States and Britain said they will push for a strong resolution. Diplomats said France and Britain are preparing a draft that will demand a threat of sanctions if Assad does not comply with the chemical disarmament plan. Lavrov however stressed that the agreement he reached with American counterpart John Kerry Saturday meant that the resolution will not be under the chapter of the UN charter that allows the use of force. “The resolution... will not invoke Chapter VII,” he said. Chapter VII can also impose mandatory economic sanctions against a target government.
“Lavrov is not denying that there should be a Security Council resolution. As to the terms of this resolution, that needs to be discussed,” Fabius told journalists after the talks. As well as speaking with Fabius, Lavrov discussed the looming Security Council debate with British counterpart William Hague Tuesday, the British Foreign Secretary wrote on his Twitter.
Fighting has worsened in Syria as the diplomatic wrangling goes on and Turkey said it shot down a Syrian military helicopter on Monday as a rights group reported a car bomb blast near the Syria-Turkish border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights could not immediately verify any casualties of the Tuesday attack on the rebel-held Bab al-Hawa crossing, the second such attack since Feb 11 when 13 people were killed. The 30-month long conflict in Syria has killed over 110,000 people, according to rights groups, and refugees have flooded countries in the region and beyond, with Bulgaria on Tuesday appealing for EU help in accommodating the influx.
Damascus on Tuesday accused the West of trying to impose its will on the Syrian people, after major powers said they would press for a UN resolution to rid Syria of chemical arms. “The US, France and Britain have revealed their true objective... which is to impose their will on the Syrian people,” the foreign ministry said. It meanwhile accused the West of “supporting armed terrorist groups linked to the Al-Nusra Front”, which has joined the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, China on Tuesday refused to say whether a UN report into a sarin gas attack in Syria showed that government forces had used the banned weapons. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing that Beijing would have a “serious look,” at the report, but did not say whether China thought that govt forces were responsible when asked.
“The relevant investigation should be carried out by the UN investigation team on an impartial, professional and independent basis,” he said.