Photo
Edmond Mulet, a veteran United Nations diplomat, seen in Haiti in 2011. He leads the panel investigating chemical weapons use in Syria, and its mandate expires next week. Credit Allison Shelley/Getty Images

The leader of the United Nations investigative panel that has found that Syria used chemical weapons expressed pessimism on Wednesday about his panel’s future, and he said Russian diplomats had warned him regularly that the Kremlin was prepared to reject its findings.

In an interview, the panel’s leader, Edmond Mulet, a veteran United Nations diplomat, also said he was mystified as to why the Russians had tenaciously defended the Syrian government when, in his view, the proof of its chemical weapons attacks was overwhelming.

“I didn’t know what the conclusions would be of our investigations,” Mr. Mulet said. “Maybe they knew, and so they were preparing the ground for this already.”

The panel’s mandate from the United Nations Security Council expires in just over a week, with no clear sign it will be renewed.

On Tuesday, the panel’s latest findings — that Syrian forces were responsible for a lethal assault using sarin nerve agent on the village of Khan Sheikhoun this past April 4 — were rejected by Russian and Syrian diplomats at a Security Council meeting.

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Russia’s deputy permanent representative, Vladimir Safronkov, ridiculed Mr. Mulet in his objections to the findings, which were based on witness interviews, photographs, videos and chemical analysis of soil samples that the Syrian government had provided.

Mr. Mulet said he had not been surprised by the criticism, given what he described as Russia’s protests of the panel’s research methods in the months leading up to the report.

He said Russian diplomats would tell him how the panel should operate, warning him that “if you don’t do it this way, we will not accept your conclusions.”

Messages left with the press office of Russia’s United Nations Mission for comment on Mr. Mulet’s assertions were not immediately returned.

The 26-member panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, also has found that Syrian forces used chlorine bombs in the conflict, and that Islamic State militants have used mustard poison.

But the Khan Sheikhoun finding was the first by an independent investigative panel to blame Syrian forces for an attack using sarin, a lethal nerve agent that had once been stockpiled by President Bashar-al Assad of Syria. He was thought to have purged the stockpile under Russian and American pressure after Syria joined the treaty that bans chemical weapons in 2013.

Mr. Mulet’s panel was formed two years later to determine who was still using chemical weapons in the Syria conflict. The panel is a collaboration of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a group based at The Hague that monitors compliance with the treaty.

The use of chemical weapons is a war crime, and the pattern of chemical attacks in Syria, with no accountability so far, has raised alarms that a major 20th-century advance in eliminating such weapons has been weakened.

Mr. Mulet said the Russian objections to his panel’s work appeared to reflect a larger calculation by the Kremlin that Mr. Assad’s legitimacy as the leader of the Syrian government must be insulated from Western subversion.

“They’re very protective of Assad, of the structure there,” he said, “so anything that could really dent Assad in any way, they’re trying to cover up, protect, defend and justify — which on the chemical weapons file, I find it indefensible.”

Russia vetoed an American resolution at the Security Council last month to extend by one year the panel’s mandate, which expires on Nov. 16.

After the panel’s Khan Sheikhoun report came out a few days later, Russia circulated a Security Council draft resolution that the panel’s findings were flawed and needed further research, and proposed extending its mandate for six months.

The United States has offered a rival resolution that accepted the findings and would extend the panel’s mandate for 18 months.

Most members of the Security Council appear to support the American resolution, but it risks a Russian veto.

Mr. Mulet said his panel, facing possible dissolution in a matter of days, was already winding down its other investigations.

“The two draft resolutions are so far apart,” he said. “So in a week to bring that together, I don’t know. We would need a miracle.”

As for his own tensions with the Russians, he said, “I’m sure they would be extremely pleased if someone else took over.”

Continue reading the main story

The leader of the United Nations investigative panel that has found that Syria used chemical weapons expressed pessimism on Wednesday about his panel’s future, and he said Russian diplomats had warned him regularly that the Kremlin was prepared to reject its findings.

In an interview, the panel’s leader, Edmond Mulet, a veteran United Nations diplomat, also said he was mystified as to why the Russians had tenaciously defended the Syrian government when, in his view, the proof of its chemical weapons attacks was overwhelming.

“I didn’t know what the conclusions would be of our investigations,” Mr. Mulet said. “Maybe they knew, and so they were preparing the ground for this already.”

The panel’s mandate from the United Nations Security Council expires in just over a week, with no clear sign it will be renewed.

On Tuesday, the panel’s latest findings — that Syrian forces were responsible for a lethal assault using sarin nerve agent on the village of Khan Sheikhoun this past April 4 — were rejected by Russian and Syrian diplomats at a Security Council meeting.

Russia’s deputy permanent representative, Vladimir Safronkov, ridiculed Mr. Mulet in his objections to the findings, which were based on witness interviews, photographs, videos and chemical analysis of soil samples that the Syrian government had provided.

Mr. Mulet said he had not been surprised by the criticism, given what he described as Russia’s protests of the panel’s research methods in the months leading up to the report.

He said Russian diplomats would tell him how the panel should operate, warning him that “if you don’t do it this way, we will not accept your conclusions.”

Messages left with the press office of Russia’s United Nations Mission for comment on Mr. Mulet’s assertions were not immediately returned.

The 26-member panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, also has found that Syrian forces used chlorine bombs in the conflict, and that Islamic State militants have used mustard poison.

But the Khan Sheikhoun finding was the first by an independent investigative panel to blame Syrian forces for an attack using sarin, a lethal nerve agent that had once been stockpiled by President Bashar-al Assad of Syria. He was thought to have purged the stockpile under Russian and American pressure after Syria joined the treaty that bans chemical weapons in 2013.

Mr. Mulet’s panel was formed two years later to determine who was still using chemical weapons in the Syria conflict. The panel is a collaboration of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a group based at The Hague that monitors compliance with the treaty.

The use of chemical weapons is a war crime, and the pattern of chemical attacks in Syria, with no accountability so far, has raised alarms that a major 20th-century advance in eliminating such weapons has been weakened.

Mr. Mulet said the Russian objections to his panel’s work appeared to reflect a larger calculation by the Kremlin that Mr. Assad’s legitimacy as the leader of the Syrian government must be insulated from Western subversion.

“They’re very protective of Assad, of the structure there,” he said, “so anything that could really dent Assad in any way, they’re trying to cover up, protect, defend and justify — which on the chemical weapons file, I find it indefensible.”

Russia vetoed an American resolution at the Security Council last month to extend by one year the panel’s mandate, which expires on Nov. 16.

After the panel’s Khan Sheikhoun report came out a few days later, Russia circulated a Security Council draft resolution that the panel’s findings were flawed and needed further research, and proposed extending its mandate for six months.

The United States has offered a rival resolution that accepted the findings and would extend the panel’s mandate for 18 months.

Most members of the Security Council appear to support the American resolution, but it risks a Russian veto.

Mr. Mulet said his panel, facing possible dissolution in a matter of days, was already winding down its other investigations.

“The two draft resolutions are so far apart,” he said. “So in a week to bring that together, I don’t know. We would need a miracle.”

As for his own tensions with the Russians, he said, “I’m sure they would be extremely pleased if someone else took over.”

Nytimes

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