Russia cast its 10th veto on Thursday of United Nations Security Council action on Syria since the war began in 2011, blocking a US-drafted resolution to renew an international inquiry into who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
The mandate for the joint inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which found the Syrian government used the banned nerve agent sarin in an April 4 attack, expires at midnight Thursday.
A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted. The US draft text received 11 votes in favor, while Russia and Bolivia voted against it and China and Egypt abstained.
The vote sparked a war of words between Russia and the United States in the council, just hours after White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump believed he could work with Russian President Vladimir Putin on issues like Syria.
The April 4 sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people prompted the United States to launch missiles on a Syrian air base. US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley warned after the council vote on Thursday: “We will do it again if we must.”
“The Assad regime should be on clear notice - the United States does not accept Syria’s use of chemical weapons,” she told the council, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the US draft resolution was not balanced.
“We would like to remind our US colleagues and those who ... supported their unrealistic draft, we would like to remind you that you bear the burden of responsibility if the mechanism cannot be salvaged,” Nebenzia told the council.
“Russia is doing everything possible to prevent that from happening,” he said.
Vote on Russian draft
Syrian ally Russia withdrew its own rival draft resolution to renew the inquiry, formally known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), after losing a rare procedural vote for its text to be considered after the council voted on the US draft.
Diplomats said the Russian draft text had little support among the 15-member council. After the council voted on the US draft, Bolivia then requested that the body vote on the Russian text. The vote was expected to take place later on Thursday.
Ahead of the council vote, Trump on Thursday urged the Security Council to renew the inquiry, saying it was needed to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons.
While Russia agreed to the 2015 creation of the JIM, it has consistently questioned its findings, which also concluded that the Syrian government used chlorine as a weapon several times.
Russia has now vetoed 10 resolutions on Syria, including blocking an initial US bid on Oct. 24 to renew the JIM, saying it wanted to wait for the release two days later of the inquiry’s report that said the Syrian government used sarin.
“Russia has killed the Joint Investigative Mechanism ... Russia has undermined our ability to deter future attacks,” Haley said, accusing Moscow of “playing games” with the council’s attempt to renew the chemical weapons investigation.
“In effect Russia accepts the use of chemical weapons in Syria. How then can we trust Russia’s support for supposed peace in Syria?” she said.
Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.