Moon: U.N. inspectors working “around the clock” to complete preliminary investigation on use of chemical weapons in Syria

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefs the press on Syria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Before departing on Monday for the G-20 conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that weapons inspectors are working “around the clock” to analyze samples collected in Syria to determine conclusively whether chemical weapons were used against civilians just outside of Damascus two weeks ago.

Moon said all the bio-medical and environmental samples gathered by the U.N. inspection team – led by Swedish scientist Dr. Åke Sellström – will “have arrived at the designated laboratories” by Tuesday.

“We are doing our utmost to expedite the process. At the same time, I need to stress the importance of not jeopardizing the scientific timelines required for accurate analysis,” said Moon. “As the first proofs of allegations of the use of weapons of mass destruction of 21st century, the mission’s success is in everyone’s interest.”

He asked that member states to give the U.N. mission the opportunity to complete its task and to “independently establish the facts in an objective and impartial manner”.

If the laboratory results confirm the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Moon said such act is a “serious violation of international law and outrageous war crime.”

(Chemical weapons were banned after World War I when they were widely used to horrific effects.)

“Any perpetrator must be brought to justice. There should be no impunity,” said Moon. “This is a larger issue than the conflict in Syria. This is about our collective responsibility to humankind…Our common humanity compels us to ensure that chemical weapons do not become a tool of war or terror in the 21st century.”

But it’s important to note that the U.N. inspection team’s mandate is limited to only determining whether chemical weapons were used in the Ghouta area east of Damascus and the extent to which they were used. At this point, the mission is not investigating which party is responsible for carrying out the Aug. 21st chemical attacks, which U.S. intelligence officials said killed more than 1,400 civilians, including at least 400 children.

Shortly before Moon’s press briefing, President Barack Obama, flanked by GOP House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, reiterated the need to take “limited” and “proportional” military action to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “accountable”.

Citing the grave threats Syria’s chemical weapons pose to neighboring countries such as Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq as well as to U.S. national security, Obama is seeking congressional authorization to conduct military strikes in Syria to “degrade Assad’s capabilities when it comes to chemical weapons” and to send a clear message that the use of banned weapons will result in serious consequences.

In addition to weakening Assad’s military capabilities, the U.S. would step up assistance to the Syrian opposition, which Obama hopes would help “transition that can bring peace and stability not only to Syria but to the region.”

Obama emphasized that his proposed military action will not involve U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.

“This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan,” said Obama. “What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional…It does not involve boots on the ground.”

Congress is expected to vote on the resolution for the use of military force when it convenes next week.

It is still unclear whether the U.N. lab results will be completed before the US. Congress votes on the matter.

Moon said that he has “taken note” of Obama’s statement and that he appreciated the White House’s efforts in seeking congressional authorization.

However, Moon stressed the primacy of the U.N. Charter and maintained that any military action on Syria should be approved by the Security Council only after the results from the inspection team’s samples are complete.

“That’s my appeal – that everything should be handled within the framework of the United Nations Charter,” said Moon. “The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defense in accordance with the Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and or when the Security Council approves such action. That is from the principles of the United Nations.”

However, China and Russia – two permanent members of the Security Council that have sided with the Syrian government – are likely to veto any resolution authorizing the use of force.

Moon said he will take the opportunity at the G-20 conference to speak to world leaders about Syria and secure more humanitarian assistance for the 2 million refugees and 4.2 million internally-displaced Syrians fleeing the conflict. The two-year civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people, according to the U.N.


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