The United Nations reported on Monday that sarin gas was used “on a relatively large scale” in Syria last month, the first independent confirmation of the deadly nerve agent’s use during an August 21 attack on a Damascus suburb.
The official U.N. report stops short of assigning blame for the chemical bombardment. But Bruce Jones, director of the Managing Global Order project at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, says “the evidence speak[s] for itself.”
“They didn’t come right out and say this is obviously the [Assad] regime,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation, “but you’d have to be pretty credulous to read the report any other way.”
Investigators confirmed the use of sarin by testing victims’ blood and urine, as well as directly analyzing the surface-to-surface rockets used to deliver the gas. Both were found to contain traces of the nerve agent.
The Assad regime has long been suspected of possessing vast quantities of sarin gas.
The investigators also claimed that some missiles were marked with serial numbers and letters from the Cyrillic alphabet, which Jones believes “points pretty heavily to an actor on the ground that was supplied by the Russians.”
“Either the Russians have started supplying the rebels, or this was the regime,” he said.
While the report only confirms what U.S. intelligence has said from the beginning, Jones thinks UN confirmation “changes the political calculation, especially in Europe.”
As the United States prepared for the imminent bombardment of Syria two weeks ago, the European Union and several European ministers expressed their intent to delay action until the UN inspectors submitted their report.
“We jointly welcomed the fact that France has decided to wait for the presentation of the United Nations report,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters after an EU meeting on September 7.
“We have also made clear our expectation toward our American partners that one should follow the example of France before capitals decide on taking further measures,” Westerwelle added at the time.
“In the international scene, it’s quite useful to have the UN confirming American intelligence,” Jones explained.
“I hope the effect is that it should help to stiffen the spine and maintain unity between the key western actors here, the US, UK and France,” he continued.
Reuters reports that the American, British and French ambassadors to the UN all said that the report left no doubt about the Assad regime’s culpability.
Russia’s envoy, however, refused to acknowledge the scientific proof presented by the investigators. “We need not jump to any conclusions,” he said Monday.
The United States, Russia and Syria are currently negotiating the full disarmament of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons stockpiles as an alternative to an American-led military strike.
Jones is skeptical that the plan will work, calling it “very, very complicated and questionable business, frankly.”
But he also believes that Monday’s report could increase the chances of a brokered solution by potentially toughening an upcoming UN resolution on the Syria crisis.
“If [the disarmament plan] is going to have any chance of success, either in material terms or political terms, it’s going to have to be a very tough UN resolution when it comes out next week,” he said.
“One possibility is this report makes it just a little bit easier to get a tough enough [Security] Council resolution that is meaningful down the road,” he continued, “but that’s not guaranteed.”
On Monday the French, British and American envoys to the UN agreed to seek a “strong and robust resolution that sets precise and binding deadlines with a calendar.”
“The idea is to stick to a firm line,” an anonymous aide to French President Francois Hollande told reporters.
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