Three draft resolutions were presented at the UN Security Council on Tuesday as a response to recent reports of an alleged chemical attack reported to take place over the weekend in the Syrian city of Douma. The sources of the reports are videos from multiple online opposition news sites and Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera.
After the attack, the United States and most of its Western allies immediately accused Syrian government forces and Russia and Iran for backing them. In just two days the situation reached a fever pitch. US President Donald Trump even cancelled his trip to Latin America to "oversee the American response to Syria," according to the White House.
Moscow denied the information about the chlorine bomb that was allegedly dropped by the Syrian forces. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the goal of the reports on chemical attacks is to cover for terrorists and justify the use of military force. As early as March 13 Russian Air Forces were reporting on the planned provocation in Eastern Ghouta of staging a chemical attack.
Russia put two documents to vote. The first one is the draft resolution on setting up a UN mechanism to investigate chemical attacks in Syria. It was drafted back in January and finalized in recent months.
The second document is a resolution that supports the deployment of the mission from Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to Douma to conduct the investigation. The resolution condemns "any use of toxic chemicals as weapon in Syria" and contains requests to all parties of the conflict in Syria to immediately provide full access for OPCW experts to the place of incident.
The main difference between the two documents is in who and how determines the guilty party. The United States insisted that the new mechanism determine the guilty parties after which the UN Security Council could sanction the military response.
The Russian resolution said the UN Security Council will "thoroughly study" the committee's conclusions, which, in turn, will not name the guilty party, but leave it to the Council.
The fate of the US resolution has been decided from the get-go, as Russian Envoy to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said before the vote.
"The authors are aware that [the US draft resolution] contradicts Russian position and will not be adopted," he said. "The delegation of the United States is once again trying to mislead the international community and making yet one more step towards confrontation by requesting a vote on a draft resolution that does not have unanimous support."
In the end, Russia vetoed the US resolution, while the Russian draft resolution did not garner the needed ten votes, receiving just six.
China was among the supporters, whose representative cautioned against military responses. Seven Council members voted against the resolution, while two others — Kuwait and Cote d'Ivoire — abstained.
The fate of the second Russian draft resolution was not decided at once. UN Security Council was temporarily suspended for consultations on the document to deploy OPCW mission to Syria’S Douma. After the discussion, the document was turned down, too, failing to garner enough votes. Six members of the Council abstained this time, five voted for it, the others abstained.
OPCW is already working on the matter, UK Envoy to the UN Karen Pierce told reporters.
Waiting for OPCW
On Monday, Russian Envoy to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said at the Security Council meeting that OPCW experts should soon travel to Syria. Nebenzia promised that the experts will have all necessary conditions to conduct a thorough investigation.
"According to our information, two expert groups from the OPCW mission should go to Syria at the end of this week," Nebenzia said.
Earlier, OPCW confirmed its plans to send a mission to Douma but did not state the exact time period.
However, while the West supports OPCW's participation in the investigation, there are no guarantees that they will wait for the missions' results. For instance, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Tuesday that the United States knows for a fact that a chemical weapon was used in Douma, but not sure which one.
She admitted the positive role of OPCW's participation in the investigation but refused to say whether the United States would wait for the conclusion of the mission before taking action.
UN Secretary-General spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday that the OPCW needs complete access to the site of the chemical attack to determine who is responsible.
On Monday, Trump said in a meeting with the US military leadership that he would announce in the next 24 to 48 hours what the US response would be.