MOSCOW, August 25 (RIA Novosti) – In a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, the Syrian foreign minister expressed readiness to give a team of UN investigators access to the site of an alleged chemical attack in a Damascus suburb, Iran’s Press TV said.
“Damascus is now holding talks with the UN inspectors on the access to the site of the alleged chemical attack,” the channel said citing an Iranian foreign ministry statement.
After discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Syria’s top diplomat Walid al-Muallem also had a phone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the purported attack, AFP said.
The talks were "to make clear that if, as they claimed, the Syrian regime has nothing to hide, it should have allowed immediate and unimpeded access to the site rather than continuing to attack the affected area to block access and destroy evidence," an unnamed US diplomat said.
The UN team of chemical weapons investigators started working in Damascus on Monday. The team is expected to visit three sites where chemical weapons attacks allegedly occurred earlier. One site is the town of Khan al-Assal, in Syria’s northern Aleppo province, where the Syrian government claimed rebels used chemical weapons in March.
Days after the investigators arrived, the Syrian opposition has accused the government of killing scores of people in a massive nerve gas attack near Damascus on Wednesday. The Damascus government has repeatedly denied the accusations.
Doctors Without Borders, an international medical charity working with hospitals in the Syrian capital, said earlier on Saturday that thousands of people were hospitalized in Damascus in less than three hours on August 21 with “neurotoxic symptoms,” which indicate “mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.”
The charity group made clear that it cannot say with any certainty who or what caused these symptoms. According to information it has received, 355 of the 3,600 people treated reportedly died.
US President Barack Obama discussed the issue in a phone conversation with UK Prime Minister David Cameron. They have tasked officials in their respective countries to examine all the options, a UK government spokesperson said in a statement.
“The fact that President [Bashar] al-Assad has failed to co-operate with the UN suggests that the regime has something to hide,” the statement reads.
Obama also discussed the matter with his national security team at the White House on Saturday, AFP reported.
The Pentagon is prepared to carry out military options on Syria should President Barack Obama choose to exercise any of them, U.S Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday.
"President Obama has asked the Defense Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that and we are prepared to exercise whatever option - if he decides to employ one of those options," Reuters quoted Hagel as saying.