John Kerry stated yesterday: “I spoke on Thursday with Syrian Foreign Minister Muallim and I made it very clear to him that if the regime, as he argued, had nothing to hide, then their response should be immediate — immediate transparency, immediate access – not shelling. Their response needed to be unrestricted and immediate access. Failure to permit that, I told him, would tell its own story.
“Instead, for five days, the Syrian regime refused to allow the UN investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them. Instead, it attacked the area further, shelling it and systematically destroying evidence. That is not the behavior of a government that has nothing to hide. That is not the action of a regime eager to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons. In fact, the regime’s belated decision to allow access is too late, and it’s too late to be credible. Today’s reports of an attack on the UN investigators, together with the continued shelling of these very neighborhoods, only further weakens the regime’s credibility.”
On Thursday, Reuters reported: “The United Nations demanded Syria give its chemical weapons experts immediate access on Thursday to rebel-held Damascus suburbs where poison gas appears to have killed hundreds just a few miles from the UN team’s hotel.”
In fact, according to an exchange at a news conference at the UN today, the UN did not make a formal request of the Syrian government until Saturday and the Syria government responded positively the next day.
MATTHEW R. LEE, innercitypress at gmail.com, Matthew.Lee at innercitypress.com, @innercitypress
Lee covers the UN for Inner City Press. He just wrote: “Much is being made of the Syrian government’s delay in granting the UN’s request for its chemical weapons inspection team to visit al Ghouta.
“Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Farhan Haq at Tuesday’s noon briefing when it was that the UN formally requested access to al Ghouta — on Saturday, August 24 or before? Video here [at 12:00].
“Haq read out a press statement from August 22, in which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said a request is being sent. Then, Haq said, Ban’s High Representative on Disarmament Angela Kane ‘stepped forward with the request’ — on August 24, Saturday.
“It was granted the next day.
“Inner City Press asked again, was there any formal request by the UN other than Ban’s press statement, before August 24? Haq called this ‘semantics.’ But when Inner City Press asked Ban to respond to widely circulated press releases about a request being made to him, the UN says the actual request has not been received yet.”
He said today: “It’s like everyone is telling Syria to let the police in, but the police didn’t knock on the door. The Syrian government can’t fulfill a request before it’s made. We don’t know what Syria would have said if the request was done on Thursday, but Kerry’s claim that they Syrians delayed is without merit. This episode does not make one question the Syrian ‘regime’s credibility’ as Kerry claims, but rather that of the U.S. and UN.”
“Why was the UN so slow and sloppy? Why has Secretary General Ban Ki-moon not even stood up for the safety of UN personnel inside Syria? These questions remain unanswered.”