News Column

Ban Says Chemical Weapons Inspectors Will Leave Syria Saturday

Aug 29, 2013

U.N. chemical weapons inspectors will finish their work near Damascus Friday and leave Syria the next day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.

"They will continue their investigation activities until tomorrow, Friday, and will come out of Syria by Saturday morning and will report to me as soon as they come out of Syria," Ban told reporters during a briefing in Vienna, where he cut short his attendance at a peace forum.

Ban said he spoke with President Obama Wednesday, discussing how the United Nations and countries would work together and how inspectors could expedite their investigation.

"I have also expressed my wish that this investigation team should be allowed to continue their work as mandated by the member states and I told him that we will surely share the information and the analysis of samples and evidence with Members of the Security Council and U.N. members in general," Ban said.

Syria wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking that the U.N. weapons team not leave Syria Saturday as expected but stay longer to investigate alleged rebel use of chemical weapons in three attacks on regime forces this month.

Britain deployed fighter jets to Cyprus in case President Bashar Assad retaliates if airstrikes against Syria are conducted, The Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.

Royal Air Force sources told the Telegraph the Typhoon fighters would be stationed at Akrotiri air base to act as a "defensive shield" if a "rogue aircraft" attacks the base.

"We can confirm that as part of ongoing contingency planning, six RAF Typhoon interceptor fast jets are deploying this morning [Thursday] to Akrotiri in Cyprus," an air force spokesman said. "This is purely a prudent and precautionary measure to ensure the protection of [British] interests and the defense of our sovereign base areas at a time of heightened tension in the wider region. This is a movement of defensive assets operating in an air-to-air role only."

Also Wednesday, the Russian navy said plans to beef up its Mediterranean flotilla with ships from its Northern fleet was a "routine rotation," not linked to the Syria crisis.

The Telegraph said a senior member of the Russian General Staff was quoted as saying at least two vessels would be redeployed from the Arctic and the Atlantic to "adjust" Russia's naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

The military moves by Britain and Russia came as the British Parliament prepared to consider Prime Minister David Cameron's watered-down measure concerning military action in Syria in response to reports that Assad forces used chemical weapons against Syrians, which Assad has denied.

Late Wednesday, Cameron said he will wait for a report from U.N. weapons inspectors before seeking parliamentary approval for "direct British involvement" in the Syrian intervention. Observers said the Labor Party could still refuse to back the prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, noting he was "wrestling" with deciding whether to support military action, told the BBC evidence indicated indicated Syrian opposition forces weren't capable of carrying out the chemical attack last week in suburbs of Damascus in which hundreds, possibly more than 1,000, died.

Clegg said evidence included findings by the Joint Intelligence Committee to be published Thursday.

"All the evidence ... points in the same direction, namely that the opposition could not have done this," he told the BBC. "They didn't have control over the chemical stockpiles, they didn't have the weaponry in the artillery to deliver them in the way that they were delivered."

White House, Defense Department and State Department officials planned a classified bipartisan briefing with congressional leaders and key members of the House and Senate armed services, foreign affairs, intelligence and other national-security committees Thursday, White House and congressional officials said.

The phone briefing followed White House receipt of a letter from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, demanding a clear explanation of any military action against Syria before it starts.

He also criticized Obama's level of consultation with lawmakers. (The letter can be found at tinyurl.com/UPI-Boehner-letter.)

Separately, 116 House lawmakers -- 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats -- signed a letter demanding Obama seek congressional authorization before a military strike.

Along with the congressional briefing, the administration planned as early as Thursday to make non-classified evidence public showing the Assad regime had "undeniable" responsibility for the Aug. 21 chemical attack.

Obama told the "PBS NewsHour" Wednesday he hadn't decided whether to order a military attack, but said if he does, it would be limited.

"I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria," Obama said, but "there need to be international consequences" for the chemical strikes residents and activists in Syria's agricultural Ghouta region east of Damascus say killed more than 1,000 people.

A closed-door meeting of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members Wednesday ended without considering a British resolution allowing the use of force to prevent further chemical-weapons use in Syria because Russia opposed the measure.

Russia said the measure was premature and the council should wait until U.N. chemical-weapons inspectors deliver their final report, diplomatic officials and Russia's Interfax news agency said.

The State Department responded saying protracted Security Council discussions were immaterial to Obama's decision.

"We see no avenue forward [at the United Nations], given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful council action on Syria," department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. "Therefore, the United States will continue its consultations and will take appropriate actions to respond in the days ahead."



Source: Copyright UPI 2013