UN stops short of demanding probe over Syrian chemical attack

Security council seeking "clarity" on opposition claims; Russia and China reportedly scuttle explicit call for probe.

Boy allegedly affected by chemical weapons in Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boy allegedly affected by chemical weapons in Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The UN Security Council released a brief statement on Wednesday evening, stopping short of calling for an investigation into Wednesday morning's allegations of a massive chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus that reportedly killed more than a thousand people.
After two hours of closed consultations with the Security Council, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson briefly relayed once again how "deeply disturbed" and "shocked" Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was about the alleged attack. Eliasson also emphasized the reports have not been confirmed, but said the UN will "investigate this as soon as possible."
"This represents, no matter what the conclusions are, a serious escalation with grave human consequences," Eliasson said.
The UN investigative team on Syrian chemical weapons arrived in the country on Sunday, but it was unclear whether they would be granted access to all the areas they are mandated to investigate, including the latest one. Eliasson did not confirm whether the UN had yet asked for permission for access, or whether Syria had given theirs.
Eliasson did not take any questions, nor did Argentinian Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval, who quickly summarized the broad points of the Security Council's deliberations. "I can say that there is a strong concern among Council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and that the situation has to be followed carefully," she told reporters. "The members of the Security Council also welcomed the determination of the Secretary General to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation."
In an aside statement to reporters after Perceval spoke, UK Ambassador Philip Parham confirmed to reporters that the UK penned a letter to the Secretary General and calling on him to demand an investigation.
"[The letter asked] him to do what he can to ensure that the mission, which is already there on the ground, is able to have urgent access to be able to conduct investigations," Parham said. The letter was signed by 35 countries, and "a broad range of member states," Parham said. Parham did not say who signed it.
When asked whether the UN investigative team would demand access to the affected area, Parham referred reporters to Perceval's statement in which she "called for a prompt thorough and independent investigation, you can't do that without access," Parham said. "So that was clearly implied."
The spokesman for the US mission to the UN also told reporters that part of the Council's deliberations involved trying to make sure investigators would be able to access the site of the alleged attack, and confirmed that the US was one of the signatories on the UK's letter.
Speaking to reporters briefly before and after the consultations, Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan said Pakistan "supports the investigations" by the UN team in Syria, but confirmed that they were not one of the 35 signatories on the letter sent to Ban.
UN diplomats said Russia and China opposed language containing an explicit call for a UN probe. An earlier Western-drafted statement, seen by Reuters, would have asked the United Nations to "urgently take the steps necessary for today's attack to be investigated by the UN mission."
That proposed statement was diluted to accommodate Russian and Chinese objections, council diplomats told Reuters.
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Reuters contributed to this report.