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US seeks Security Council action to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria

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UNITED NATIONS — The United States circulated a draft U.N. resolution Thursday aimed at identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria so they can be brought to justice.

The United States has been promoting Security Council action to assess blame for an increasing number of alleged chlorine attacks, and Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said last month that the council should look at the best way to ensure that the people allegedly responsible for chlorine attacks are brought before a court.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global chemical weapons watchdog based in The Hague, Netherlands, has a mandate to carry out fact-finding missions and has condemned the use of chlorine in Syria as a breach of international law.

But neither the OPCW nor the United Nations have a mandate to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said in a statement that "given the frequent allegations of chlorine attacks in Syria, and the absence of any international body to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks, it is critical that the U.N. Security Council find consensus and set up an independent investigative mechanism."

The draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, asks U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in coordination with OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu, to submit to the council within 15 days recommendations to establish an "OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism."

It says this investigative body will identify "entities, groups or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in use of chemical weapons" in Syria in instances where an OPCW fact-finding mission has determined that an incident involved or likely involved the use of chemical weapons.

The draft resolution reiterates that Syria is banned from using or retaining chemical weapons and that "no party in Syria" should use or acquire such weapons.

It expresses the council's determination "to identify those responsible for these acts." And it reiterates "that those individuals, entities, groups or governments responsible for any use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, must be held accountable."

While Russia and the United States have failed to agree on a way to end the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, they have agreed in the past on eliminating its chemical weapons stockpile. Council diplomats said Russian and American diplomats discussed the text of the new resolution before it was circulated.

Following a chemical weapon attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of civilians on Aug. 21, 2013 a U.S.-Russian agreement led to a Security Council resolution the following month ordering the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, precursors, and the equipment to produce the deadly agents.

The Syrian government's support for the resolution and decision to join the OPCW warded off possible U.S. military strikes in the aftermath of the Aug. 21 attack, which Damascus denied carrying out.

While Syria's declared stockpile of 1,300 metric tons of chemicals has been destroyed, there are still outstanding questions about possible undeclared chemical weapons that the OPCW is still investigating.

Chlorine is not a banned agent used in chemical weapons, like sarin or ricin. But it is toxic and its use in attacks in Syria started being reported last year.

In March, the Security Council approved a U.S.-drafted resolution that condemns the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria, and threatens further measures including sanctions in the case of violations.

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