— Syria’s United Nations' ambassador blamed what he called "some influential countries" for the delay in sending a chemical weapons investigation team to his country.
On March 20, the Syrian government asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to set up an independent and impartial investigation to probe its concerns that chemical weapons were used by armed groups in the town of Khan Asal in Aleppo province that week.
Ban acted quickly, announcing the next day that he would send a team to investigate. But more than a month later, the 15-person technical mission awaits permission from the Syrian government to enter the country.
At issue is the scope of the investigation. Syria wants only Khan Asal investigated, but Britain and France have raised another possible incident of chemical weapons use in Homs. The U.N. chief has said the team should investigate all credible allegations and has urged the Syrian authorities to give the mission full and unfettered access to do their work.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told reporters Tuesday that his government is cooperating with the U.N. and is still willing to receive the team, but wants to see the Khan Asal incident investigated before it is willing to begin considering the investigation of other allegations.
“We said let us now fulfill, achieve, in a credible manner, impartial, independent manner, the investigation in Khan Asal. Then if the Syrian government and the Secretary-General and the Security Council members, feel that these allegations are also credible, the Syrian government, might - might - examine the possibility of asking for a further investigation," he said.
The Syrian envoy accused hostile governments of seizing on the chemical weapons issue to increase political pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.
He side-stepped the question of whether the Syrian authorities possess chemical weapons, repeating the government line that if they do, they would not use them on their own people.
Speaking to reporters Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again called for full access to locations in Syria, saying it is necessary if the United Nations is to be able to establish the facts and clear up doubts surrounding this issue.
“A credible and comprehensive inquiry requires full access to the sites where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used. I again urge the Syrian authorities to allow the investigation to proceed without delay and without any conditions," he said.
Ban’s spokesman said Tuesday that the Syrian government’s efforts to expedite the deployment of the mission to investigate Khan Asal are welcome, but that cooperation should be extended to other sites.