x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Russia accuses US of “blackmail” over UN resolution on Syria

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says Washington and its allies are focused on regime change rather than disarming Syria's chemical weapons.

DAMASCUS // A mortar round hit the Russian embassy compound in Damascus on Sunday, injuring three, as Moscow accused Washington of blackmailing it to win a tough UN resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons.

“On September 22 as a result of shelling by the rebels of the Damascus neighbourhood of Mazzeh, one of the shells exploded on the territory of the Russian Embassy in Syria,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

“Three employees received non-life threatening injuries. Right now an investigation of the incident is under way.”

In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at the United States.

He accused Washington of using “blackmail” to push for a tough UN resolution enshrining a deal agreed upon by the US and Russia under which Syria is turning over its chemical weapons for destruction.

The US, Britain and France want a tough resolution that could include sanctions or use of force under the UN Charter’s Chapter VII if Syria fails to implement the deal.

“Our American partners are beginning to blackmail us: if Russia won’t support a resolution under Chapter VII in the UN Security Council, then we will stop the work in the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” Mr Lavrov told Channel One, Russian agencies said.

The Hague-based OPCW is charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal.

“Our partners are now blinded by their ideological goal of regime change,” Mr Lavrov said.

“All they talk about is that Bashar Al Assad must leave.

“They are only interested in proving their own superiority. Not in the goal that is guiding us, to solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syria,” he added.

The OPCW said on Saturday it had received a complete inventory from Syria of its chemical arsenal and was scrutinising the data.

A tentative Saturday deadline had been set for the full accounting of Syria’s arsenal under the plan which calls for its chemical weapons to be destroyed by mid-2014.

There are hopes that the deal could pave the way for peace talks to end the 30-month conflict which has killed more than 100,000 people and forced two million more to flee abroad.

But the plan has been greeted with scepticism by the Syrian opposition.

The OPCW, which enforces the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria has applied to join, postponed a meeting of its executive council on Sunday to discuss the practicalities of disposing of Syria’s chemical weapons.

The deal was worked out after Washington threatened military action in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.

Most western governments and the Syrian opposition accuse forces loyal to Mr Assad, the Syrian president, of unleashing the chemical weapons that killed hundreds in suburbs of the capital.

A UN report released last Monday said that sarin gas was used in the August 21 attack but did not apportion blame. Mr Al Assad’s government and the rebels fighting to oust him have accused each other of being responsible.

The Syrian conflict is expected to take centre stage at UN headquarters when the annual General Assembly opens on Tuesday.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, a leading Syrian ally, is among the keynote speakers and has offered to mediate between the opposition and the Damascus government.

But the opposition Syrian National Coalition has dismissed the offer as “not serious”.

Turkey, meanwhile, said on Sunday that it would not “tolerate” Al Qaeda-affiliated groups emerging in the Syrian conflict, after clashes between the radical groups and other rebels this week.

“We will not allow any formation beyond our borders that would threaten Turkey and the entire region,” the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, was quoted as saying by the Milliyet newspaper.

“We can never tolerate this.”

* Agence France-Presse