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Armed Conflicts

In Rush to Strike Syria, U.S. Tried to Derail U.N. Probe

Secretary of State John Kerry (shown as a senator in 2009) has called the use of chemical weapons in Syria a "moral obscenity". Credit: Ralph Alswang, Center for American Progress Action Fund/CC by 2.0

WASHINGTON, Aug 27 2013 (IPS) - After initially insisting that Syria give United Nations investigators unimpeded access to the site of an alleged nerve gas attack, the administration of President Barack Obama reversed its position on Sunday and tried unsuccessfully to get the U.N. to call off its investigation.

The administration’s reversal, which came within hours of the deal reached between Syria and the U.N., was reported by the Wall Street Journal Monday and effectively confirmed by a State Department spokesperson later that day.

In his press appearance Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry, who intervened with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to call off the investigation, dismissed the U.N. investigation as coming too late to obtain valid evidence on the attack that Syrian opposition sources claimed killed as many 1,300 people.

The sudden reversal and overt hostility toward the U.N. investigation, which coincides with indications that the administration is planning a major military strike against Syria in the coming days, suggests that the administration sees the U.N. as hindering its plans for an attack.

Kerry asserted Monday that he had warned Syrian Foreign Minister Moallem last Thursday that Syria had to give the U.N. team immediate access to the site and stop the shelling there, which he said was “systematically destroying evidence”. He called the Syria-U.N. deal to allow investigators unrestricted access “too late to be credible”.

After the deal was announced on Sunday, however, Kerry pushed Ban in a phone call to call off the investigation completely.

The Wall Street Journal reported the pressure on Ban without mentioning Kerry by name. It said unnamed “U.S. officials” had told the secretary-general that it was “no longer safe for the inspectors to remain in Syria and that their mission was pointless.”

But Ban, who has generally been regarded as a pliable instrument of U.S. policy, refused to withdraw the U.N. team and instead “stood firm on principle”, the Journal reported. He was said to have ordered the U.N. inspectors to “continue their work”.

The Journal said “U.S. officials” also told the secretary-general that the United States “didn’t think the inspectors would be able to collect viable evidence due to the passage of time and damage from subsequent shelling.”

The State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, confirmed to reporters that Kerry had spoken with Ban over the weekend. She also confirmed the gist of the U.S. position on the investigation. “We believe that it’s been too long and there’s been too much destruction of the area for the investigation to be credible,” she said.

That claim echoed a statement by an unnamed “senior official” to the Washington Post Sunday that the evidence had been “significantly corrupted” by the regime’s shelling of the area.

“[W]e don’t at this point have confidence that the U.N. can conduct a credible inquiry into what happened,” said Harf, “We are concerned that the Syrian regime will use this as a delay tactic to continue shelling and destroying evidence in the area.”

Harf did not explain, however, how the Syrian agreement to a ceasefire and unimpeded access to the area of the alleged chemical weapons attack could represent a continuation in “shelling and destroying evidence”.

Despite the U.S. effort to portray the Syrian government policy as one of “delay”, the formal request from the United Nations for access to the site did not go to the Syrian government until Angela Kane, U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, arrived in Damascus on Saturday, as Ban’s spokesman, Farhan Haq, conceded in a briefing in New York Tuesday.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said in a press conference Tuesday that Syria had not been asked by the United Nations for access to the East Ghouta area until Kane presented it on Saturday. Syria agreed to provide access and to a ceasefire the following day.

Haq sharply disagreed with the argument made by Kerry and the State Department that it was too late to obtain evidence of the nature of the Aug. 21 incident.

“Sarin can be detected for up to months after its use,” he said.

Specialists on chemical weapons also suggested in interviews with IPS that the U.N. investigating team, under a highly regarded Swedish specialist Ake Sellstom and including several experts borrowed from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, should be able to either confirm or disprove the charge of an attack with nerve or another chemical weapon within a matter of days.

Ralph Trapp, a consultant on proliferation of chemical and biological weapons, said he was “reasonably confident” that the U.N. team could clarify what had happened.

“They can definitely answer the question [of] whether there was a chemical attack, and they can tell which chemical was used,” he said, by collecting samples from blood, urine and hair of victims. There was even “some chance” of finding chemical residue from ammunition pieces or craters where they landed.

Trapp said it would take “several days” to complete an analysis.

Steve Johnson, who runs a programme in chemical, biological and radiological weapons forensics at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, said that by the end of the week the U.N. might be able to answer whether “people died of a nerve agent.”

Johnson said the team, if pushed, could produce “some kind of view” on that issue within 24 to 48 hours.

Dan Kastesza, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps and a former adviser to the White House on chemical and biological weapons proliferation, told IPS the team will not be looking for traces of the nerve gas sarin in blood samples but rather chemicals produced when sarin degrades.

But Kastesza said that once samples arrive at laboratories, specialists could make a determination “in a day or two” about whether a nerve agent or other chemical weapons had been used.

The real reason for the Obama administration’s hostility toward the U.N. investigation appears to be the fear that the Syrian government’s decision to allow the team access to the area indicates that it knows that U.N. investigators will not find evidence of a nerve gas attack.

The administration’s effort to discredit the investigation recalls the George W. Bush administration’s rejection of the position of U.N. inspectors in 2002 and 2003 after they found no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the administration’s refusal to give inspectors more time to fully rule out the existence of an active Iraqi WMD programme.

In both cases, the administration had made up its mind to go to war and wanted no information that could contradict that policy to arise.

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    Spot on. Article after article states that the regime in the US has simply jumped to a pre-ordained conclusion based upon YouTube videos, rebel informants, and John Kerry’s “common sense” (perhaps “bizarre imagination” would be more fitting).

    If Libya is any guide, thousands of civilians will be killed to “avenge” the death of hundreds without so much as a brief investigation. This makes the case for the Iraq War look solid as a rock.

    Hope and Change? Yeah, right.

  • gregorylent

    usa bases its thinking on israeli intelligence and #nsa intercepts .. what could go wrong?

  • Javed

    US readies to strike Syria at Hyades Last Quarter Moon.

  • reisroc

    Who produces sarin and VX? Who sold it to Syria ? Do we have stocks of NBC weapons as well ? Who’s obscene, then ?

  • Hind Abyad

    Who introduced chimical weapons in ME?
    West and Israel created a magic formula, sectarian wars between Arab countries, then invading and destroying creating millions of refugees on top of millions, each time it changes the demographics, refugees become refugees again.

    Middle East in a toy for Israel and US, grabing more land more oil and gas for free, experimenting “imoral weapons” on civilians, depleated uranium in Fallufah, phosphorus in Gaz.

    There are no more Arabs to defend them, they’re gone in hands of Saudi US Israel alliances. They want the rest of the Levant “Syria”. .

    Israel has already granted oil and gas shares to Murdoch and Rothschild,
    3 years ago, in occupied Golan Heights against International Law.
    Egypt, the biggest populated Arab country is US puppet since Mubarak.
    I hope to God Russia and China stop this apocalypse.

    Palestine was not enough for Israel instead of making peace with neighbors, they divided and conquered them.

  • mortimer zilch

    MOTIVE. motive. motive. Who has the motive for the sarin attack? Who has sarin to use in the first place? These questions are not answered fully. Israel has the most to gain because it wants BOTH sides in Syria to lose. They have sarin and could have fired the cannisters by commandos using shoulder fired rockets rather than platform fired. Is there any radar record of the missiles? hush hush on that question. Obama’s rushing to war is also suspicious of war crime. This action needs to be stopped, or postponed by Congress right now!

  • pisapapeis

    just waiting for the moon to turn and off the planes go!

  • Uzumaki Naruto

    let the american people decide if we want to invade syria instead of our corrupt government. Everyone I asked said HELL NOOOOO

  • Jacques-André Langelier

    What if this attack had been organized by some western country in order to simply justify an attack on Syria, USA and Israeli seeing the rebels loosing the war felt they needed to help, reverse the momentum. Ever heard of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Irak? Me neither.

  • lukeweyland

    I suppose the US is still looking Hussein’s fabled “Weapons of Mass Destruction”

  • Trevor Bacon

    Yes, What Could go Wrong


    Quote “It’s the old Trojan dick trick.” He lit a
    “What’s that?” I couldn’t help smiling; I’d
    never heard it called that before.
    “I knew that would get your attention,” he
    said, grinning. “Shimon activated Operation Trojan
    in February of this year.”

    I nodded. I’d still been in the Mossad when that order
    was given, and because of my naval background and
    acquaintance with most of the commanders in the navy, I
    participated in the planning for the operation as liaison
    with the navy.

    A Trojan was a special communication device that could
    be planted by naval commandos deep inside enemy
    territory. The device would act as a relay station for
    misleading transmissions made by the disinformation unit
    in the Mossad, called LAP, and intended to be received by
    American and British listening stations. Originating from
    an IDF navy ship out at sea, the prerecorded digital
    transmissions could be picked up only by the Trojan. The
    device would then rebroadcast the transmission on another
    frequency, one used for official business in the enemy
    country, at which point the transmission would finally be
    picked up by American ears in Britain.

    The listeners would have no doubt they had intercepted
    a genuine communication, hence the name Trojan,
    reminiscent of the mythical Trojan horse. Further, the
    content of the messages, once deciphered, would confirm
    information from other intelligence sources, namely the
    Mossad. The only catch was that the Trojan itself would
    have to be located as close as possible to the normal
    origin of such transmissions, because of the
    sophisticated methods of triangulation the Americans and
    others would use to verify the source.”

  • Trevor Bacon

    Don’t Worry, They’re Building the New Library as we speak.

  • Trevor Bacon

    They are just trying to save tax dollars for the good people of the united states. It’s not cheap keeping all those ships in the med. Best to get the fireworks underway and cut that deficit.

  • scottrose

    Of all the stupid nonsense!

  • scottrose

    There were sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shiites before the United States even existed.

  • Monte Letourneau

    Same old story, any evidence that does not conform with the same old guess is no evidence at all, because when the administration of The US of A makes a guess based on secret stuff, that is the only valid proof that exists in the corporate media.

    Yet another thing Repuglickings have done so often the Lamocrats can now also do it as a matter of course (for those who live in the biggest bubbles), and without question (by the “sane”).

    It would weaken “us” if the president had to concern himself with silly things like evidence, logic, reason, or legal cause (much less a productive goal, imaginable end game, or !!imagined positive results for life on Earth!!) every time he decided a stupid minor issue, like whether we kill millions abroad to save them from not having democracy due to electing people who won’t do what the administration tells them to (on behalf of imaginary monsters like certain “important national interests” and “legal fictions of people”!).

    If you elect leaders who do not act in the perceived interests of “our” State Dept. (towards maximization of multinational conglomerates’ profits) then they are, by definition, unable to prove anything, and this occasionally includes the UN whenever “necessary”.

    The US admin has acquired the power that was for so long confined to God alone (well and his selected representatives), the ability to create truths which over-ride any evidence (well, for a while at least). Long live the Administration of the USA!!!

  • Monte Letourneau

    No, they were long ago found in Syria, and other places “we” don’t like.
    They were stolen from us while our troops waited around for days with no orders to secure the places they were reputed to be stored. Then they went into the black market, if they were there at all, no idea who profited or received them.
    Private contrators, Iraqi resistance, international jihadists, what’s the diff?

  • Monte Letourneau

    We would have to vote, and actually think about who we vote for, by paying attention, first. That’s far too high a price as long as it’s other people “we’re” killing. (When it comes ’round to killing ourselves wholesale, our vote will probably officially become redundant anyway.)
    Regardless of the circumstances there is only one real political power, the people united. Help candidates who take no corporate donations, learn to run on people power!

  • Monte Letourneau

    That’s ridiculous! people never do the thing for any benefit!
    Insane people run the world and do insane things for only insane reasons!

    Only Assad could have done it, he’s the only one of the two that did not spend enough in lobbying the US citizenry to own the US state Dept., so he’s, by definition, the most insane, and thus least likely to do it for a good reason, like survival, winning the war, or anything minor and optional like that.

  • Monte Letourneau

    That’s silly, the only one who has anything to gain from gassing the suburb of the city the UN team arrived in, the same day they arrived, is Assad.

    Nobody but Assad could benefit from the US bombing Assad, so it had to be Assad. Besides, everyone knows shelling and bombing erases evidence of gas, and that you must take samples the same day of the attack, that’s why the UN team was there!!!

    Never try to decide what matters, or what is right, the US State Dept., and Administration, has access to secret stuff and things.

  • Hind Abyad

    Yes before America even existed. Americans dont even know Canada’s capital except ME oil gaz & wars!
    In Syria all sects lived in peace till Israel and Congress, proxies medias, activists, created sectarian hatred.
    In Ottoman Empire all sects lived in peace.

    In WW1 the British in Mesopotamia drew lines on the sand, Shia and Sunnis who were separated started confrontations, there was no Saudi Arabia, later Saudi rats demanded US and Sadam attack Shia Ayatola Komeiny’s Iran.. we can see what’s Irak today.

    Saudis, US, Nato, Israel, CIA are funding and arming Sunni Al Qaeda terroristes, to massacre Shia, Alawits, Christians and Kurds. in Syria..

  • scottrose

    You can’t be serious, alleging that all strife between Sunnis and Shia is due to outside, non-Muslim influences:
    After the Battle of the Camel, Ali returned from Basra to Kufa in Rajab of 36 A.H. (January 657). The Iraqis wanted the capital of the newly established Islamic State to be in Kufa so as to bring revenues into their area and oppose Syria.[15] They convinced Ali to come to Kufa and establish the capital in Kufa. Ali listened to them and moved the capital to Kufa. Ali ibn Abi Talib tried to settle matters peacefully by sending an envoy to Syria. He chose Jarir, who was the chief of Banu Bajila and governor of Hamdan. In Syria, incitement to commotion continued unabated. Uthman’s shirt, besmeared with his blood and the chopped-off fingers of his wife, Naila, were exhibited from the pulpit. In this manner, Muawiya raised the entire country of Syria against Ali. Ultimately, both parties converged on Siffin where the armies pitched their camps in 37/657. Even at this stage, Ali sent three men, viz. Bashir bin Amr bin Mahz Ansari, Saeed bin Qais Hamdani, and Shis bin Rabiee Tamini to Muawiya to induce him to settle for union, accord and coming together. According to Tabari, Muawiya replied that, “Go away from here, only the sword will decide between us.”[16] Ali gathered his forces, and, after at first planning to invade Syria from the North, he attacked directly, marching through the Mesopotamian desert. Arriving at Riqqa, on the banks of the Euphrates, the Syrian vanguard was sighted, but it withdrew without engagement. The people of Riqqa were hostile to Ali, and his army had great difficulty crossing the river. Eventually, Malik al-Ashtar threatened the townspeople with death, which forced their co-operation. So, finally, the army managed to cross the river, by means of a bridge of boats. Ali’s army then marched along the right bank of the Euphrates, until they came across the Syrian outpost of Sur al-Rum, where there was a brief skirmish, but Ali’s advance was not slowed. So in Dhu al-Hijjah 36 (May 657), the army of Ali ibn Abi Talib came into sight of Muawiyah’s main forces, which were encamped on the river plain at Siffin

  • scottrose

    With an army of some 80,000 strong, mainly recruited from Iraq, Ali set out from Kufa, planning to march through upper part of Iraq and invade Syria from the north. Ali, then pushed on to Raqa, on the left bank of the Euphrates. Here his troops came across the Syrian vanguard but it withdrew without engagement. The next problem was how to cross the river. Ali wanted to construct a bridge of boats, but the people of Raqa were hostile. It was only after Ali’s general, Malik al-Ashtar, had threatened them with death that they consented to help in building the bridge which was completed under great difficulties. Ali’s men then advanced along the right bank of the river in the direction of Aleppo. At Sur-Rum they had a brief skirmish with a Syrian outpost before they reached the plain of Siffin, where they found Muawiya’s forces drawn up in strength and waiting for them.

    Ali soon discovered that the Syrian positions controlled the water supply of the whole valley, and that there was no access to the river for his men. Muawiya obviously intended to use thirst to drive Ali’s men to surrender. Muawiya had, however, underestimated the calibre of Ali’s troops. Ali, however wrote a letter to Muawiya, which reads: “You have fore-stalled me in pitching the stables for the horses of your cavalry. Before I could declare war on you, you have declared war on us. It was bad move on your part to cut off our supply of water. It behooves you to allow us the natural supply of water. Failing this, we will be reluctantly forced to fight with you.”[citation needed] On receiving this letter, Muawiya conferred with his advisers, who urged him not to yield up the advantage he had gained. Ali was therefore left with no alternative but to attack at full gallop and inflicted a crushing defeat on Muawiya’s forces, and took charge of water supply. Now it was the turn of Ali’s counselors to urge control of the water supplies and for the soldiers of Muawiya to suffer the rigors of extreme thirst. But Ali ordered his men to allow the Syrians free access to the river, saying: “Our religion and ethical code does not permit us to stop water supply, to pay our enemy back in his own coin. I do not want to follow the way of the ignorant people.”

  • Hind Abyad

    I’m not going to read all that?

    I know what you mean but i was speaking about the Ottoman Empire, they lived in eaches own territory, they united under Laurence of Arabia against the OttomanTurks, with promesses of independence to all the territories putting signs in every village. After the War they were colonised till WW2, et voila.

  • mist42nz

    that explains why the Zionist state of the US is ignoring the UN

  • I can’t tell m name

    I never doubted the US would invade Syria, it was a foregone conclusion. It is not going to be a limited attack, Syria will be bombed back to the Stone Age. The insurgents knew all along that Obama had to have a pretext to launch the attack, so they gave him one. Any Hollywood special effects artist can make a video depicting a bunch of actors look like the “walking dead”. The videos depicting people lying down looking dead could very well be a hoax. They are so many people killed or dying from natural causes every day in Syria. Why would it be so difficult to put a dozen of them in a small room and make a video of them? Why would it be so difficult to have a bunch of insurgents lie down in such a small area and play dead? I watch the videos a dozen times, and I could not see any visible signs of someone having suffered from such an agonizing death. They just looked like if they were sleeping. Obama does not want to see the UN inspectors report before he destroys Syria, and I wonder why, don’t you?

  • Hind Abyad

    You wonder why? I wonder why you wonder why, it looks suspecious.
    Now i’m desperate i just heard FSA (AlQaeda beheaders) are besieging Maaloula, a village of 2000 in the mountains most peacefull place on Earth, and last place were they sill speak Aramean the language of Jesus, i put this crime on Israel-US-Saudi Rats. Don’t wonder anymore who want Christians to disappear from Middle East .
    Israel and Wahabi vampires both most lucrative US Allies.

  • Hind Abyad

    Google “What did the terrorists do to these children to make this fake film”.

  • Karl Rove

    Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta have admitted to Associated Press journalist Dale Gavlak that they were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons incident which western powers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia.

    “From numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families….many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the (deadly) gas attack,”writes Gavlak.

    Rebels told Gavlak that they were not properly trained on how to handle the chemical weapons or even told what they were. It appears as though the weapons were initially supposed to be given to the Al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra.

    “We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” one militant named ‘J’ told Gavlak.

    His claims are echoed by another female fighter named ‘K’, who told Gavlak, “They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them. We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

  • Anthony J. Alfidi

    The US is cherry-picking details out of context, just as it did to justify war in Iraq. The strategic decision-making process has not matured after ten years of hard feedback.

  • cuja1

    It is no secret the US becomes upset when leader refuse to obey, and the US wants Assad to stand aside to allow a pathway for an attack in Iran. It’s also interesting in the news the US is sending more weapons to the Rebels. We all know the US has chemicals, and used them , so does Israel…..Also, it’s interesting that so many back to back uprisings all over the Middle East, so many leaders eliminated,…… now Syria????????????

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