UNITED NATIONS, July 11 (Edith Lederer, Associated Press) – Russia accused the United States, Britain and France on Thursday of intentionally making a large number of groundless allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria in order to complicate efforts to arrange a UN investigation.
Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, made the accusation following an announcement that Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom and UN disarmament chief Angela Kane will accept a Syrian government invitation to visit Damascus for talks on the terms of a possible investigation.
Churkin said Tuesday that experts from Russia, Syria's closest ally, had determined that Syrian rebels made sarin nerve gas and used it in a deadly chemical weapon attack on March 19 in the government-controlled Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal. He said the attack killed 26 people, including 16 military personnel, and injured 86 others.
The Syrian government has called for a UN investigation of the Khan al-Assal attack but has refused to expand it to include other alleged chemical weapons attacks in Homs, Damascus and elsewhere, allegations raised by the US and Europeans.
"We need to look into credible allegations," Churkin told reporters Thursday. "Unfortunately, I think what our Western colleagues have been doing is trying to produce the maximum number of allegations with minimum credibility in an effort, one might think, to create maximum problems for arranging such investigation."
Shortly afterward, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky stressed that guidelines and procedures approved by the UN General Assembly say "there can be no substitute for an onsite investigation at all relevant locations in the Syrian Arab Republic."
He told reporters that the secretary-general hoped the visit to Damascus by Sellstrom and Kane would take place as soon as possible so they can arrange for "cooperation for proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission."
Churkin also rejected US State Department charges Wednesday that Russia was working to keep the UN from investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
"The notion that Russia is blocking anything is completely misleading," he said, because immediately after the Syrian government called for a UN investigation of the Khan al-Assal incident "we have been doing everything we could in order to make sure that that investigation were to happen."