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A handout photo provided Human Rights Watch claiming to show a remnant of a yellow gas cylinder found in Aleppo, Syria, after a chlorine attack on Nov. 18, 2016. (REUTERS)
A handout photo provided Human Rights Watch claiming to show a remnant of a yellow gas cylinder found in Aleppo, Syria, after a chlorine attack on Nov. 18, 2016. (REUTERS)

Russia, China veto UN sanctions on Syria over gas attacks Add to ...

Russia and China vetoed new UN sanctions on Syria Tuesday and the U.S. ambassador accused both countries of refusing to hold President Bashar al-Assad’s regime accountable for the use of chemical weapons.

“They put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security,” U.S. envoy Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council after the vote. “They turned away from defenceless men, women and children who died gasping for breath when Assad’s forces dropped their poisonous gas.”

The Trump administration recently joined France and Britain in sponsoring the resolution, and Ms. Haley minced no words in denouncing the “outrageous and indefensible choice” that Russia and China made on Tuesday. U.S. President Donald Trump had warm words for Russian President Vladimir Putin while campaigning, but Ms. Haley has now criticized Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula as well as Syria.

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The defeated resolution was drafted following a joint investigation by the United Nations and the international chemical weapons watchdog determined the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State extremist group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.

Russia, Syria’s closest ally, joined Western countries in establishing the joint investigation, known as the JIM, to determine responsibility for chemical attacks.

But Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said after the vote that Moscow let it be known early on that it was “skeptical” of the JIM’s reports and the “uncorroborated nature of the conclusions.” He stressed that there was “no convincing evidence” to determine who was responsible for using chemical weapons.

Mr. Safronkov also pointed to the divided Security Council vote saying many council members have questions about the JIM’s conclusions and the resolution. It got the minimum nine Yes votes on Tuesday but in addition to China and Russia, Bolivia voted “no” and three countries abstained: Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.

Addressing the three Western sponsors, Mr. Safronkov said: “You decided on provocation when you knew well in advance our position.” He stressed that the only way to resolve the Syrian conflict is through co-operation – “and it’s high time we do so.”

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Putin said Russia will oppose any new sanctions against Syria “because it wouldn’t help the negotiation process but only hamper it and undermine confidence as the process of negotiations is under way.”

Ms. Haley said Russia and China sat through nearly a year of briefings by the JIM investigators and never objected, “but now, they suddenly say the investigation just wasn’t enough.”

“Russia’s suggestion is for the Assad regime to investigate itself for use of chemical weapons,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with the investigation. Russia just doesn’t want to criticize the Assad regime for using chemical weapons. That’s the truth.”

Referring to “my friends in Russia,” Ms. Haley added, “it is a sad day in the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people.”

“The world is definitely a more dangerous place,” she said. “Today, the international community can look no further than the Security Council for contributing to that.”

She said the United States has already put the 21 individuals, companies and organizations targeted for UN sanctions in the defeated resolution on the U.S. sanctions blacklist and will urge the European Union and other countries to follow suit.

Ms. Haley also said the Islamic State’s use of chemical weapons adds to the United States’ determination to defeat the extremist group.

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