The United States, the United Kingdom and France are pushing for an “irreversible” end to Syria’s chemical weapons program, amid furious recriminations from Russia over the effectiveness and legality of a wave of US-led missile strikes on Syrian targets.
UN diplomats shared with CNN a new resolution, led by France and backed by the United States and the United Kingdom, calling for an independent investigation into the suspected chemical weapons attack inside Syria that precipitated the cruise missile strikes unleashed by the Western allies on Friday.
France’s ambassador to the United Nations, Francois Delattre, said Syria’s chemical weapons program must be dismantled in a “verifiable and irreversible way.”
The renewed push for a UN-backed diplomatic solution follows a volatile emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, called by Moscow on Saturday, with Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, condemning the joint US-British-French strikes as a violation of international law.
Nebenzia said Friday’s missile strikes, targeted at facilities associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program, had been a “blow to the political settlement” in the divided Middle Eastern nation.
The Russian-led response to the strikes, though limited to words, comes amid days of building pressure and talk among UN diplomats of a potential new Cold War.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged all Security Council members to show restraint, as US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told the meeting that Washington remains “locked and loaded” to respond to any future Syrian chemical attacks.
Outside the UN, protests against the strikes were held around the world Saturday, including in major cities in the United States, Mexico, Greece and the United Kingdom.
While some of the protesters came out in support of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, many others were opposed to the use of military action by Western powers against Syria.
New chemical weapons resolution
Investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, arrived in Syria on Saturday to begin their investigation into the alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.
The team met with Syrian authorities in Damascus at 7 p.m. local time on Saturday, according to Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari.
It was the suspected chemical attack that led the Western allies to order the missile strikes, which they lay squarely at the feet of the Syrian regime.
Senior US officials said on Saturday they were confident both chlorine and sarin gas were used in the attack. Both the Syrian and Russian governments have denied Damascus’ involvement in the attack.
The new French-led resolution presented to the Security Council would have investigators from the OPCW report their findings to the UN within a new timetable.
A Security Council diplomat told CNN there was no rush to vote on the draft resolution, but an attempt will be made to engage in serious negotiations.
The resolution would also allow a third-party review of humanitarian evacuations from Douma and medical evacuations with no conditions.
On Saturday the Syrian military announced on state television it had retaken Eastern Ghouta, including the city of Douma, from rebels. A military official said “all the terrorists have left Douma.”
Earlier on Saturday, a Russian resolution at the UN Security Council condemning the US-led strikes was voted down, gaining support from two other members, China and Bolivia.
Ambassador Nebenzia decribed the resolution’s failure to pass as “sad day for the world.”
The battle inside the Security Council came as US President Donald Trump struck a triumphant tone in the wake of the strikes, on Saturday tweeting: “Mission Accomplished!”
On Sunday, he defended the use of the term “mission accomplished,” which was widely mocked for repeating former President George Bush W. Bush’s famous “mission accomplished” banner unfurled on an aircraft carrier during the Iraq conflict in 2003. The ill-fated banner appeared years before the US mission in Iraq came to an end, and came to symbolize the President’s seemingly misguided intervention in the region.
“The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term “Mission Accomplished.” I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!” Trump tweeted.
US Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a press briefing Saturday the strikes would set back Syria’s chemicals weapons capability for years.
He described the attack as “precise, overwhelming and effective,” saying they had targeted a scientific research center and two chemical weapons storage facilities on Friday.
Satellite photos obtained by CNN of the areas targeted by the US, UK and French strikes showed extensive damage from the 105 missiles fired at the facilities.
But Russia and Syrian authorities have disputed the assessment of the Pentagon, saying instead the vast majority of the incoming missiles were shot down by the country’s military forces.
The Russian Defense Ministry said only seven missiles had reached two Syrian military airfields and that “no serious damage to infrastructure was inflicted.”
Syrian state television said three civilians were wounded in Homs as a result of the strikes.
In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May sought to shore up international support for the strikes, calling on the leaders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Italy, Germany, Australia and Canada, according to a statement from Downing Street.
“All of the leaders agreed with the Prime Minister on the importance of restoring the international norm that the use of chemical weapons is never acceptable,” the Downing Street statement said.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Sunday there was “no proposal on the table at the moment for further attacks,” in an interview on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”
“This is not about regime change, or trying to turn the tide of conflict in Syria,” Johnson added. “It’s about sending a message on the use of chemical weapons.”
May is expected to face questions in the British Parliament on Monday over the strike, which was launched without permission from the country’s legislature.
“The UK Prime Minster is accountable to Parliament, not to the whims of a US president. I believe the action was legally questionable and this morning the UN secretary general has said as much,” UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a letter to May Saturday.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan spoke on the phone Saturday about the strikes, according to Turkish state media.
Turkey, a NATO member, has embarked on increased defense cooperation with Moscow, after the signing of an accord that will see Russia supply Ankara with state-of-the-art S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries.
While Erdogan emphasized the need to deescalate tensions, Putin reiterated that the Western nations had “grossly” breached the UN charter and international law, according to Russian state media Tass.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.