Russia says it’s not behind Syria chemical attacks

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, left, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confer in the United Nations Security Council, in this Jan. 18, 2018 photo. (AP)
Updated 24 January 2018

Russia says it’s not behind Syria chemical attacks

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Russia rejected Tuesday fresh US accusations that it bears responsibility for recent chemical attacks by the Syrian government, calling instead fora new “truly impartial” international investigation.
During a last-minute United Nations Security Council meeting he called, Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia lashed out at American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for having “hastily accused the Syrian — as they call it — ‘regime’” of the reported attack in Eastern Ghouta that left its victims struggling to breathe.
“Now they are trying to drag Russia into this as well,” Nebenzia added.
His comments came as diplomats from 29 countries met in Paris to push for sanctions and criminal charges against the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria.
Russia and China have blocked Western-backed efforts at the UN to impose sanctions on Damascus over their use.
“Does it not seem strange to anybody that this episode — the episode of which has yet to be confirmed — somehow coincided with the meeting in Paris and the forthcoming conference in Sochi? This is a strange coincidence,” Nebenzia added.
During the Security Council meeting, Nebenzia called again for establishing a “new international investigative body which, on the basis of irrefutable information, would be able to establish evidence to identify perpetrators in the use of chemical weapons.”
His plan would replace a chemical weapons panel known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, whose mandate could not be renewed due to Russian vetoes.
Moscow is also circulating a draft resolution that would establish the new investigative body that would be “truly impartial, independent, professional and credible.” Russia has repeatedly contested the JIM’s legitimacy.
US envoy Nikki Haley quickly indicated the Russian proposal had no chance of being adopted. The United States also holds veto power at the Security Council.
“We’re not going to accept any Russian proposal that undermines our ability to get to the truth or that politicizes what must be an independent and impartial investigation,” she said.
“If they want to work in good faith toward that goal, we are ready to re-establish the JIM, with its original independent and impartial mandate, right now. But anything less is unacceptable.”
She argued that Moscow had supported the JIM as long as its investigators pointed the finger at the so-called Daesh group, but challenged their conclusions when they blamed the Syrian regime.
“That is not how independent investigations work. You don’t get to question the findings when they don’t go your way,” Haley said.
Damascus has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons, with the United Nations among those blaming government forces for an April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun that left scores dead.
There have been at least 130 separate chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012, according to French estimates, with the Daesh group also accused of using mustard gas in Syria and Iraq.
A new round of peace talks is due to take place in Vienna on Thursday and Friday, while Moscow has organized negotiations in the Russian city of Sochi next week aimed at ending Syria’s civil war.

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

A special meeting of the Joint Commission of parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on Iran’s nuclear deal is in progress in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 24 min 54 sec ago

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

  • ‘Noose is tightening on Tehran’ in face of US sanctions, expert tells Arab News
  • US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

JEDDAH: Signatories of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday in a bid to save the agreement after Washington’s dramatic withdrawal earlier this month.

For the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered — at Iran’s request — without the US, which pulled out of the agreement on May 8 and said it would reinstate sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran — concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama — saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to AFP after Friday’s meeting, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “We are negotiating... to see if they can provide us with a package that can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.” 

“Practical solutions” were required to address Iran’s concerns over its oil exports, banking flows and foreign investment in the country, he said.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all the chances to succeed, provided we have the political will.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News that it would be against Europe’s interests to stay in the deal.

“The European nations should be cognizant of the fact that the beneficiary of the nuclear deal is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its militias,” he said. “Staying in the deal or submitting to the Iranian regime’s new demands will inflict damage on the EU’s geopolitical and national security interest in the short and long term.”

The EU could not thwart or skirt US primary and secondary sanctions against Iran, he said. Rafizadeh said Iran’s hard-liners were attempting to obtain concessions from the EU by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA.

“But from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, giving concessions means weakness. And although Iran is playing tough, it needs the deal to support Bashar Assad and its proxies.

“The European governments should be aware that the Iranian leaders — moderates and hard-liners — are playing a shrewd tactical game.

“The regime is playing a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to help the moderates win more concessions,” said Rafizadeh.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the noose was tightening on Tehran.

“European firms simply cannot afford the penalties imposed by US secondary sanctions on Iran. The Iranian plan to press Europe to compensate for President Trump’s policy decision to restart a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely to prove fruitful,” he told Arab News.

Recent revelations of a covert Iranian facility designed to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads will only complicate matters for Tehran as it scrambles for a European lifeline, Shahbandar said.

“The collapse of the JCPOA is likely to prove a major shock to the Iranian economy in the long run,” he said.