U.S. Envoy: Russia Shielded Assad From ‘Justice’ on Chemical Strikes

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power addresses the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. Power condemned Russia's veto of a measure to refer the Syrian civil war to the International Criminal Court.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
May 22, 2014, 10:52 a.m.

A seni­or U.S. en­voy ac­cused Rus­sia of giv­ing its Syr­i­an ally in­ter­na­tion­al cov­er for its al­leged past use of chem­ic­al weapons against op­pon­ents.

Am­bas­sad­or Sam­antha Power leveled the as­ser­tion on Thursday, after Mo­scow and Beijing blocked ap­prov­al of a U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil pro­pos­al for the In­ter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Court to ex­am­ine pos­sible vi­ol­a­tions of in­ter­na­tion­al law in Syr­ia’s 3-year-old civil war. More than 160,000 people have died in the con­flict, a Brit­ish watch­dog or­gan­iz­a­tion said this week.

“Be­cause of the de­cision by the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion to back the Syr­i­an re­gime no mat­ter what it does, the Syr­i­an people will not see justice today,” said Power, Wash­ing­ton’s chief del­eg­ate to the United Na­tions.

The dip­lo­mat said Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment has “car­ried out chem­ic­al-weapons at­tacks and bar­rel-bomb at­tacks with the full con­fid­ence that mean­ing­ful ac­tion by this coun­cil would be ob­struc­ted.”

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. dip­lo­mat, Rus­sia’s vote si­lenced vic­tims of a nerve-agent strike that killed hun­dreds of people last sum­mer. Mo­scow has joined the re­gime in blam­ing rebel forces for any use of chem­ic­al arms in the con­flict.

“The rep­res­ent­at­ives from Syr­ia, and per­haps Rus­sia, may sug­gest that the res­ol­u­tion voted on today was biased,” Power said. “I agree — it was biased in the dir­ec­tion of es­tab­lish­ing facts.”

Mo­scow ad­op­ted a dif­fer­ent tack, by prais­ing a joint chem­ic­al-arms dis­arm­a­ment ini­ti­at­ive de­vised after the Aug. 21 sar­in-gas strike. The at­tack ini­tially promp­ted U.S. dis­cus­sion of a po­ten­tial mil­it­ary re­sponse, but those threats sub­sided after Dam­as­cus agreed to a Rus­si­an-U.S. plan for dis­mant­ling its chem­ic­al-ar­sen­al un­der in­ter­na­tion­al su­per­vi­sion.

“When that unity is present we man­age to achieve con­crete pos­it­ive res­ults,” Vi­taly Chur­kin, Rus­sia’s U.N. rep­res­ent­at­ive, said in a state­ment to the Se­cur­ity Coun­cil after the vote.

The Rus­si­an en­voy then singled out France, the au­thor of Thursday’s draft res­ol­u­tion.

Al­lud­ing to com­ments made by French For­eign Min­is­ter Laurent Fabi­us on more re­cent chem­ic­al-strike al­leg­a­tions, Chur­kin ac­cused the top French dip­lo­mat of ex­ploit­ing “his re­cent vis­it to Wash­ing­ton to cri­ti­cize the United States for re­fus­ing to shower mis­siles and bombs on Syr­ia last fall.”

The Rus­si­an dip­lo­mat also noted that the United States has been “re­luct­ant” to re­cog­nize the In­ter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Court. The tribunal is based The Hag­ue, Neth­er­lands.

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