UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – Russia rejected a new US proposal at the United Nations on Monday to set up an investigation to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
The United States put forward a draft resolution to the Security Council following alleged toxic gas use in the rebel-held town of Douma that killed at least 40 people.
The US push for a new inquiry came amid heightened tensions over possible US military action in Syria, with President Donald Trump saying that “major decisions” would be taken within 48 hours.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the US-drafted measure “contains some unacceptable elements, which make it worse” than a previous US proposal put forward in March.
“From what we hear now, I am afraid they are looking for a military option, which is very, very dangerous,” he told reporters following an emergency council meeting.
Trump — who last year launched a missile strike on a Syrian air base after sarin was used in the town of Khan Sheikhun — warned after the latest accusations that there would be a “big price to pay.”
Rescuers and medics in Douma say more than 40 people died after a “poisonous chlorine gas attack” late Saturday in the last rebel-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta.
At the council meeting, Nebenzia warned that a US military strike against Syria could have “grave repercussions” and stressed that the use of chlorine or sarin had not been confirmed in the attack.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley urged the council to take action, but warned that the United States was ready to respond.
“We have reached the moment when the world must see justice done,” Haley said.
“History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria,” she added.
“Either way, the United States will respond.”
The Russian ambassador said Moscow had told the United States that it would not allow its forces on the ground in Syria to be put at risk.
“Armed force under mendacious pretext against Syria, where, at the request of the legitimate government of a country, Russian troops have been deployed, could lead to grave repercussions,” Nebenzia said.
Moscow and Damascus have fiercely denied that chemical weapons were used in Syria.
It was unclear when the proposed US measure would come up for a vote at the council.
A draft resolution requires nine votes to be adopted and no vetoes from the five permanent members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
“The US resolution is pretty obviously a bait for the Russians, who will have no choice but to veto it,” said Richard Gowan, a UN expert from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“That will give the US and possibly France an excuse for military action,” said Gowan.
“All sides know what is going on, and the Russians have actually been predicting US military action over Ghouta for some time. We just have to hope that Moscow will not overreact when the strikes come.”
The renewed US push to establish the United Nations Independent Mechanism of Investigation comes after Russia killed off a previous UN-led probe in November by vetoing the renewal of its mandate.
Under the current draft resolution, UNIMI would be established for one year and work with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to identify perpetrators of the chemical attacks.
The council would ask UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to outline within 30 days the operation of the panel “based on the principles of impartiality, independence and professionalism,” according to the draft text obtained by AFP.