Rival U.S. and Russian verdicts to expand the mandate of experts trying to regulate who was responsible for chemical attacks in Syria were defeated Thursday at a bitter Security Council meeting that reflected the declining relations between Washington and Moscow.
The result of the two vote’s means that the professional body — the Joint Investigative Mechanism known as the JIM — will terminate operations when its present mandate expires at midnight Thursday.
The U.S., its associates, and human rights groups called it a deliberate blow to efforts to hold liable those responsible for bringing out chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
During a three-hour drama, Russia 1st rejected the U.S. draft verdict which was supported by 11 of the 15 Security Council members. Bolivia joined Russia in voting “no” and China and Egypt refrained.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia withdrew the Russian verdict over Moscow’s urging that it be voted on second, not first as needed under council rules. But utilizing another council rule, Bolivia then resubmitted and called for a vote on that verdict.
It failed to receive the minimal nine “yes” votes required for approval. Only Russia, China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan voted in consideration while seven council members voted against and four refrained.
Japan late Thursday proposed a 30-day extension of the JIM and the Security Council was expected to confer it on Friday.
At the heart of the conflict was the demand by Russia, Syria’s most essential ally, for major changes in the way the JIM operates and the U.S. urging that the JIM’s present mandate and independence be defended.
After the votes, the United States and Russia blamed each other for ending the JIM’s operations, both contending they wanted it to go on.
“To my Russian friends, the next chemical weapons attack is on your head,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said. “By not having a JIM, you are mostly telling the whole world that chemical weapons are OK to use. That’s what we should be embarrassed about today.”
Russia’s Nebenzia shot back saying: “Today it became exactly clear we want a robust professional mechanism that will assist to avert the threat of chemical terrorism in the region, and you want a puppet-like structure to wield public opinion — which on the basis of false information will time after time allege the Syrian government of violating international norms.”
Those who voted against the Russian resolution put forward by Bolivia “bear the full brunt of responsibility for the cessation of the operations of the JIM,” Nebenzia said.
Russia has been deeply critical of the JIM’s findings that the Syrian government utilized chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015, and utilized sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and concerned about 200 others who survived the nerve agent.
Syria repeated its denial of utilizing chemical weapons.
The JIM has also blamed the Islamic State fanatic group of utilizing mustard gas in 2015 and again in September 2016 in Um Hosh in Aleppo.
Nebenzia blamed the JIM of “fundamental flaws” in blaming President Bashar Assad’s government for the attacks.
He cited its use of “remote working techniques” and failure to visit Khan Sheikhoun, “focusing solely on dubious evidence from the opposition and even terrorist groups, the contempt for the entire range of rules and methods provided for under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
Haley countered that Russia and it’s associated “want a JIM that doesn’t have independence.”
“They want a JIM that doesn’t have to report,” she said. “They want a JIM that they can micromanage, or that any members can micromanage.”
Haley noted that this was the 10th veto by Russia to support Syria.
“You have to understand when a country is playing games with people’s lives,” she said. “That’s correctly what is happening here. And it’s been happening for 10 times.”
The vote took place against the backdrop of the military and political situation in Syria, where Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand. A new round of U.N.-hosted Syrian peace talks is expected to begin in Geneva on Nov. 28.
Haley said: “The only thing that today has proven is that Russia cannot be trusted in the political procedure with Syria.”
“Russia will not be a good and loyal actor because they want to control who’s at fault,” she said. “They want to control what happens. They want to control that area because they want to work with Iran and Syria to make assured that they have it all under control.”
Nebenia said Haley “betrayed what was trying to be hidden all the time, but in fact, the entire thing was envisaged and assumed to show that Russia should not be loyal in the Syrian political procedure.”
“It’s not coincidental,” he said, “because the political procedure in Syria is … slowly gaining momentum and Russia is very instrumental in it. And so this is the very opportune moment to tell that Russia should not play the role here.”
Nebenzia said he didn’t think Thursday’s votes would influence the Geneva talks which Russia supports.
Italy’s U.N. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, the current council president, told reporters that “we inspire any effort by any member of the council to go on … examining probable consensual solutions” to revive the JIM.