Britain, France and the United States were pushing for a stronger statement, but Russia and China objected, the Associated Press reported. The Russian government, Assad’s strongest supporter, suggested that the opposition itself had staged the attack in a “pre-planned provocation.’’
After a two-hour closed door session, the council emerged with a “call for investigation” of the new allegations. The request does not refer specifically to the team currently on the ground, instead speaking of the need to “clarify” what happened.
Under its current mandate and agreement with Syrian government, the U.N. team that is now inside Syria is authorized to examine only three sites of the 13 that various other governments and the Syrian opposition had identified as suspicious before the Wednesday attack.
One Security Council diplomat said that Wednesday’s letter was intended to “increase political pressure on Syria” to permit the inspection team currently in the country access to the site of the latest incident.
The problem, the official said, is that there “is no fixed time” for such an investigation to take place.
“This still remains very much a discussion between the Syrian government on the one hand and Sellstrom’s team on the other,” the diplomat said, referring to inspection team leader Ake Sellstrom, a Swedish arms expert with a specialty in chemical weapons. “It’s hard to foresee how much time it will take.”
The council diplomat and his colleagues remain puzzled at what motivation Syrian authorities would have to undertake a chemical weapons attack while U.N. inspectors were in the area.
“We are all asking ourselves this same question, this is not logical,” the diplomat said. “What would be their interest in launching such an attack?”
Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, called on Assad to allow access to the U.N. team if he had nothing to hide.
“The reason they’ve done it now is very simple,” he said. “It’s such a strong message to Syrians. The regime is telling people, we own you, we can do anything even when the inspectors are here, and we know the international community won’t act.”
Experts said that the longer the U.N. visit to the site was delayed, the more evidence would deteriorate.
“Time is an important factor for a successful investigation,” said Ralf Trapp, a chemical and biological weapons expert based in France. “The earlier an investigation team can inspect the site of the alleged chemical weapons use and also to examine victims and eyewitnesses, the better.”
Still, he said traces of agents will usually be detected in urine for a few days and can be identified in blood for several weeks. The traces can last even longer in the surrounding environment, though it becomes more difficult to find relevant samples there, he said.