On March 21, 2013, American President Barack Obama said the U.S. was “deeply skeptical” of Syrian government claims that rebel forces had used chemical weapons as the United Nations faces calls to investigate possible use of deadly gas.
Obama also made clear that while he had serious reservations about the regime’s charges, the use of chemical arms in the conflict would be a “game changer” and required fact-gathering. The UN has been asked by Syria and Western nations to investigate conflicting accounts of two attacks.
Clouding the UN’s decision-making is a chorus of divergent versions of events. Syrian authorities blame the so called rebels for launching a rocket laden with chemicals in the Khan al-Assal area in Aleppo province, killing 25 people. The opposition said government forces were responsible and accused Assad’s forces of a second chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus.
Both sides called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send a team of investigators. Western governments including the U.S., the U.K. and France are backing the so called rebels.
On March 26, 2013, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has called on the UN chief to dispatch an investigation team to probe the use of chemical arms by foreign-backed militants in Syria.
In a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, Salehi emphasized that the terror act represents a major threat to international peace and security and an open violation of global norms, particularly the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
While calling on the UN to adopt deterrent measures to avert reoccurrence of such events, the Iranian foreign minister reiterated that the Islamic Republic, as the greatest victim of chemical weapons, censures “this inhumane crime” and expects “all governments and international organizations, including the UN, to quickly and clearly condemn this inhumane atrocity.”
In the letter, a copy of which has also been forwarded to the UN Security Council, Salehi further urged the launch of an objective probe into the incident and the sources of the chemical weapons and agents to the terrorist gangs in Syria, making certain that they are identified and brought to justice.
He noted that the terrorist use of chemical weapons in Syria comes just prior to holding the third conference on reconsideration of chemical weapons, reiterating the need for indiscriminate and effective execution of all CWC regulations, particularly the total abolition of such weapons of mass destruction by those that still possess them.
Salehi concluded his letter to the UN head by expressing confidence that the world body would strongly condemn the criminal use of chemical weapons against the innocent people of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
The development comes as the Syrian official TV network quoted Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin as demanding that the UN’s fact finding committee for probing the use of chemical weapons in Syria must not include members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has engaged in supporting and arming terrorist and militant gangs in Syria.
NATO members, particularly the US, Turkey, Britain, Germany and France, have played an active role in supporting the anti-Damascus militant gangs with military hardware, in addition to what they have referred to as “nonlethal” aid.
At least 25 people were killed and 86 others injured after militants fired missiles containing poisonous gas into Aleppo’s Khan al-Assal village on March 19. Women and children were among the victims.
The attack came after Syria’s opposition coalition, known as the Syrian National Coalition, selected a Syrian-born American citizen, Ghassan Hitto, as the prime minister of the so-called interim government.
In late April 2013, one US intelligence official told the McClatchy news agency that they had “low or moderate confidence” that the Assad regime had used sarin gas on a small scale. Not only did the plethora of US intelligence agencies differ in their assessments, but the White House itself acknowledged that “the chain of custody [of samples] is not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions”.
Two months on, the US intelligence community believed that the Assad regime “used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times over the last year”, and that intelligence officials had “high confidence” in this finding.
So, it is clear that the White House has simply pressured its intelligence community to produce a new assessment, not on the basis of new evidence, but in response to the shifting military balance within Syria, the greater involvement of Iran and Hezbollah in key battles such as that at Qusair, and pressure from European allies like France and Britain (and from Israel).
If western powers want to send arms to Syria to counteract Iranian influence as part of a wider strategic war, they should simply say so. Couching this policy shift in terms of chemical weapons could have pernicious long-term consequences. It is clear that the Iraq war did irreparable damage to public confidence in intelligence assessments and policymaking, to the point where it constrained future decision-makers and dealt an enduring moral blow to the global standing of western foreign policies. It is incumbent on this generation of policymakers that they demonstrate the transparency and honesty that was so lacking a decade ago.
Photo: Victims of american chemical warfare in Vietnam