France hits back at Russia in Syria chem weapons row

France hits back at Russia in Syria chem weapons row

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on September 18, 2013 shows Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (L) meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the capital Damascus. (AFP Photo)

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on September 18, 2013 shows Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (L) meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the capital Damascus.
(AFP Photo)

AFP – France on Wednesday dismissed a claim by Russia that a UN report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria was biased, as a row over its contents escalated.

“Nobody can question the objectivity of the people (inspectors) appointed by the UN,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a press conference.

“I’m very surprised by the Russian attitude,” he added.

Fabius was speaking after talks with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo against a background of claims and counter-claims related to a 21 August chemical attack which triggered Western threats of military action against the Syrian regime.

Russia said on Wednesday that Syria had given it evidence implicating anti-government rebels in the attack, which Britain, France and the United States have blamed on the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the UN report on the attack that was published on Monday was selective in its assessment of the evidence and had ignored other incidents of chemical weapons use.

“Without a full picture… we cannot describe the character of the conclusions as anything other than politicised, biased and one-sided,” he said.

Fabius responded: “The report cannot be seriously contested. It shows that the regime had and still has a significant chemical arsenal and that it used it.”

A senior French official said Fabius had delivered a similar message to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during talks in Moscow on Tuesday.

The Russians did not think “for one second” that the 21 August attack was the work of anyone other than the regime forces, the official said, adding that Moscow was determined to sow confusion to help delay a UN Security Council resolution being prepared in reaction to Monday’s report.

Garcia-Margallo said Spain wanted to see a binding Security Council resolution on Syria adopted as possible.

Meanwhile, from the Syrian government side, President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday thanked key backer Russia for helping his regime face down a “savage attack” by Western-backed rebels, state television reported.

 

Russia is helping “create… a new global balance”, Assad said, after Moscow opposed the use of force should the Damascus regime refuse to abide by an agreement to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile.

Assad’s statement came during a meeting with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

“President Assad expressed… his gratitude to Russia for its position of helping Syria face down the savage attack… and the Western, regional and Arab-backed terrorism,” he said, using the regime’s term for the armed revolt in the country.

Ryabkov, who flew in to Damascus on Tuesday, accused UN inspectors investigating chemical attacks in Syria of being “biased and one-sided”.

Russia has received “evidence that the rebels are implicated in the chemical attack,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS news agencies.

Damascus flatly denies using chemical weapons against opposition areas, and instead blames rebels for such attacks.

Also on Wednesday, Assad criticised US policy on Syria during a meeting with American personalities opposed to Western intervention in the conflict.

State news agency SANA, which said the team was made up of former members of Congress, journalists and peace activists, quoted Assad as saying that US policy in the Middle East was concentrated on “imposing its hegemony on the people of the region”.

This policy “does not reflect the American people’s interests and goes against (their) values and interests”, Assad added.

More than 110,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 30-month civil war, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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