UN skeptical of US drums on Syria chemical arms

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
June 14, 2013 20:15

"The validity of information on alleged use of chemical weapons cannot be ensured," Ban says, calling for independent probe.

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A man, wounded in what the government said was a chemical weapons attack, is treated in Aleppo.

injured man in apparent chemical attack 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/George Ourfalian)

WASHINGTON -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed he has received documents from American authorities detailing their findings on chemical weapons use in Syria on Friday, just a day after the White House disclosed the report to the public.

In his statement, Ban made clear that intelligence reports from any member state are appreciated, but that they are viewed with skepticism, and perhaps with bias as well.

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"The validity of any information on the alleged use of chemical weapons cannot be ensured," Ban said. "Our goal remains a fully independent and impartial inquiry."

UN investigators have yet to gain access to sites where chemical attacks are suspected to have taken place.

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After the dramatic announcement yesterday from the White House that Syria's President Bashar Assad had crossed Barack Obama's "red line" on the use of chemical weapons, officials said that the US would begin supplying Syrian rebels with lethal arms.

The Obama administration is also floating the idea of a partial no-fly zone, based in Jordan, where multiple Patriot missile batteries and 5,000 US troops are engaged in a military exercise until June 20.

After that date, at the discretion of the White House, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel could notify Congress that he intends to keep troops and military equipment in the country, either for engagement or for contingencies.

On a phone call between Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes and reporters on Thursday, the spokesman said that the president intended to engage the UN in the process before it moves forward with any further "potential response" to the chemical weapons findings.

But the secretary-general seems unlikely to support further intervention.

"There is no military solution to this conflict," Ban said on Friday, "even if both the government and the opposition, and their supporters, think there can be."

"The military path points directly towards the further disintegration of the country, destabilization of the region and inflammation of religious communal tensions," he added.

Rhodes claimed US intelligence found multiple uses of chemical weapons by Assad in the past year, as recently as late May of 2013, that has resulted in a minimum 100 to 150 deaths.

"We've prepared for many contingencies," Rhodes said, "consistent with our own national interests."

At a press availability later in the day, outgoing US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice called Hezbollah's entry into the fight a "dramatic escalation" of deep concern to the White House.

Rice said the American letter to Ban's office explains that "independent streams of information" brought US intelligence agencies to a high-confidence assessment that chemical weapons had indeed been used on multiple occasions, and implied that sarin was not the only kind.

"We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons," she said. "We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition has acquired or used chemical weapons."

She added that no decision had been made on whether the US will proceed with a no-fly zone.


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