WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – US officials have slammed the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons while charging that Russia bears substantial responsibility for the regime’s atrocities.
The US “is extremely concerned about yet another report of the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian regime to terrorize innocent civilians in East Ghouta,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters on Thursday.
“We take the allegations of chemical weapons use very seriously and are working with our partners on the ground to investigate the reports,” she said.
Many Syrians who remain in besieged areas have taken to living underground. However, as the chemical agents the regime is suspected of using, including chlorine, are heavier than air, their use is one way—a particularly brutal way—to assault a population that has protected itself in such a fashion.
On Tuesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that the Syrian regime had been responsible for the 2014 sarin gas attack on East Ghouta, as well as a chemical assault in 2013 and the April 2017 sarin gas attack that precipitated a punitive US cruise missile strike.
The OPCW report rebutted charges from Damascus and Moscow that the Syrian opposition had been responsible for the attacks.
Other US officials suggested on Thursday that Damascus was developing “new kinds” of chemical weapons while using them on a smaller scale to avoid detection.
“Our policy is zero tolerance of chemical weapons,” a senior administration official warned, “so we reserve the right to use military force to prevent or deter the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
A State Department official subsequently told Kurdistan 24, “These new weapons use delivery mechanisms previously unused in chemical weapons attacks in Syria.”
“These include ground-launched rockets and grenades,” she continued. “The regime previously used barrel bombs to deploy chlorine.”
“The characteristics of recent alleged attacks” suggest that the regime is “producing chemical weapons,” despite its 2013 accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which proscribes the production and use of such weapons, this official said.
As Nauert discussed Syria’s use of chemical weapons, she stressed Russia’s complicity, emphasizing that Moscow had the ability to stop it.
“It’s clear that Russia does have influence,” she said, but “it’s making the choice not to use its unique influence with the Syrian regime.”
“It was not that long ago that the Syrian regime was almost on its way out,” she added, but Russia decided to “bolster” the regime, and that is why it is “standing today.”
Administration officials also warned about the Islamic State’s (IS) use of chemical weapons, cautioning that if the international community did not act, “We will see more chemical weapons use, not just by Syria, but by non-state actors, such as [IS] and beyond.”
“That use will spread to US shores,” they added, as they echoed a warning from Kirstjen Nielsen, head of the Department of Homeland Security.
On Monday, Nielsen advised a Wilson Center audience that IS “has used chemical weapons on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, [and] it is only a matter of time,” before they try to conduct such “attacks in the West.”
Of course, Damascus could pass on such weapons to IS or other terrorist groups to attack Western countries through proxy forces.
Increasing tensions between Moscow and Washington over Syria also extend to negotiations to bring the conflict in the war-torn country to an end.
On Tuesday, Russia sponsored a conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, but it was boycotted by the main Syrian opposition groups, because of Russian support for the Assad regime.
Syrian Kurds also boycotted the Sochi conference, in protest of Moscow’s support for Turkey’s assault on Afrin.
Nauert explained the US position on the conference, as she responded to a question from Kurdistan 24.
“We took a look” at it, but “determined that it was far too heavily tilted toward the regime,” and “the opposition wasn’t sufficiently represented,” she said.
Consequently, the US did not attend the meeting, whether as a participant or even observer.
The US “stands firmly behind the UN Geneva process,” Nauert affirmed, as do “many other countries around the world” and in the region, which “support us strongly in the Geneva process.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany