The inspectors’ conclusion “confirms the position of those of us who have said the regime is guilty,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the findings “beyond doubt and beyond the pale,” and a clear evidence of a war crime.
“The results are overwhelming and indisputable,” Ban said. “Eighty-five percent of the blood samples tested positive for sarin. A majority of the environmental samples confirmed the use of sarin. A majority of the rockets or rocket fragments recovered were found to be carrying sarin.”
International confirmation that the attack took place seemed anticlimactic after the events of last week, when Syria acknowledged for the first time that it possesses chemical weapons and agreed to surrender them, and the United States and Russia negotiated a plan to carry out the handover.
Syria and Russia still say the Aug. 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus was perpetrated by rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Under the U.S.-Russia agreement, Syria must provide an inventory of its chemical stockpiles by the end of this week to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague. The OPCW, the body that carries out the international Chemical Weapons Convention, said Monday that it would begin drawing up a plan to “eliminate” the arsenal within “a matter of days.”
Inspection of Syria’s estimated 1,000 metric tons of poison material would begin in November, with destruction to take place next year.
Also Monday, President Obama signed an order waiving arms-control restrictions on the export of protective equipment and the provision of training to Syria. The action allows the shipment of U.S. gear to the OPCW for use in Syria, and permits equipment and training to be provided to nongovernmental organizations working with Syrian civilians and to approved rebel groups to shield themselves against any further chemical attacks.
A threat of force?
The U.S.-Russian road map also calls for a Security Council resolution that would punish Syria if it did not comply with the agreement. As council members debated its terms, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized what he called “distorted” reports that it might include a threat of military force.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, said suggestions that Russia has given “blanket” support for such a resolution mean the agreement is being “misinterpreted and misused by those who from time to time keep looking for a pretext to use military power.”