UN approves probe into gas attacks in Syria: Way forward to address civil war?

by Howard LaFranchi – August 7, 2015

The Christian Science Monitor

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — Approval of a United Nations Security Council resolution on chemical attacks in Syria suggests that conclusion of the Iran nuclear talks last month may have paved the way to renewed diplomatic action on the Middle East’s deadliest conflict.

After 18 months of intense negotiations between world powers and Iran that sucked up much of the world’s diplomatic energy, Friday’s unanimous vote by the 15-member council to identify who is using chlorine on Syrian civilians puts that country’s civil war back on center stage.

And with Russia joining the United States in support of the resolution passed Friday, US diplomats and some regional experts say signs are growing that a door has reopened – if only slightly so far – to finding a political settlement to Syria’s civil war, now in its fifth year.

“This is not a breakthrough for a political settlement, it’s a start,” says Michael Doyle, an expert in international relations at Columbia University in New York and a former UN special adviser.

The Syrian conflict has cost nearly a quarter-million lives, given rise to the self-described Islamic State, and played a major part in spawning the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The resolution passed Friday is narrowly focused on getting to the bottom of chlorine gas attacks that have continued against Syrian civilians, despite a September 2013 accord between the US and Russia to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The document directs the UN and the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to identify the “individuals, entities, groups or governments” involved in organizing or perpetrating the use in Syria of chemicals as weapons, including “chlorine or any other toxic chemical.”

Civilian populations have reported, sometimes with video evidence, chlorine gas attacks that they say were part of barrel-bomb attacks launched from helicopters. The US and other Western powers say the evidence points to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the only party in the Syrian fighting with helicopters. Russia, a key ally to Mr. Assad, has said there is no proof of where the attacks originated.

Despite the resolution’s focus on identifying the gas-attack perpetrators, US diplomats are raising the hope that the initiative – and, in particular, Russia’s role in it – can lead to broader action on Syria.

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