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Security Council Considers 30-day Extension on Syria Experts

FILE - A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, Aug. 29, 2013.

The U.N. Security Council met Friday to discuss a 30-day extension to the mandate of the expert body charged with determining responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria after rival U.S. and Russian resolutions were defeated.

The defeats came during a dramatic and highly contentious three-hour council meeting Thursday that reflected the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations and they ended the mandate of the expert body, the Joint Investigative Mechanism or JIM.

But all 15 council members have said they want the JIM to remain in operation.

After the U.S. and Russian draft resolutions were rejected, Japan circulated a new draft resolution proposing a 30-day extension of the JIM, which council members were discussing behind closed doors.

France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters the Japanese proposal "is a pragmatic proposal that can open the door to get out of the stalemate to renew the JIM temporarily."

"We hope that we can get united around this proposal and we can work again on a lasting solution to renew the JIM," he said.

The draft resolution asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to submit proposals for the structure and working methods of the JIM within 20 days.

It says the proposals should reflect the views of Security Council members, who are very divided on how the JIM should operate in the future.

At the heart of the dispute was the demand by Russia, Syria's most important ally, for major changes in the way the JIM operates, and the United States' insistence that the current mandate be extended and the JIM's independence be preserved.

Russian criticism

Russia has been highly critical of the JIM's findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and used sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others who survived the nerve agent.

Syria has denied any use of chemical weapons, while Russia has accused the JIM of using faulty methods to determine that President Bashar al-Assad's government was to blame for the attacks, including not visiting Khan Sheikhoun.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft strongly supported the Japanese draft and expressed hope it would be unanimously approved.

"In the interest of accountability for all use of chemical weapons in Syria, it is worth one last try, even though we are now clearly in overtime in search for agreement among the Security Council to keep the JIM operational," he said.