Kerry Says Chlorine Gas May Have Been Used in Syria; Vague About Consequences if Proven

By Patrick Goodenough | May 15, 2014 | 8:39pm EDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at Stansted Airport outside of London on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 for meetings on Syria. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he has seen “raw data” indicating several chlorine gas attacks by the Assad regime in recent months, which if proven would be a violation of Syria’s agreements with the international community and lead to “consequences.”

But asked what those consequences would entail, he was vague, suggesting no more than a bid to get the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution on future accountability. Russia has already hinted that it would veto such a measure, as it has done in the case of three previous Syria resolutions since the civil war began.

“I have seen evidence, I don’t know how verified it – it’s not verified yet – it hasn’t been confirmed, but I’ve seen the raw data that suggests that there may have been, as France has suggested, a number of instances in which chlorine has been used in the conduct of war,” Kerry told reporters in London.

“And if it has – if it has – and if it could be proven, then that would be against the agreements of the chemical weapons treaty and against the weapons convention that Syria has signed up to.”

President Bashar Assad’s regime last fall agreed in a deal brokered by Moscow to surrender its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction, and to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which it duly joined in October.

As a result of those steps, the Obama administration shelved plans for limited military strikes against the regime, which it had threatened in response to a deadly chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus in August.

The allegations of fresh attacks raise the prospect that the Syrian regime contravened the CWC, and would also amount to a violation of the U.S.-Russia agreement, since the terms of that agreement included Syrian compliance with the CWC.

Asked what could be done if the new chemical use was proven, Kerry replied, “It has been made clear by President Obama and others that use would result in consequences.”

“We’re not going to pin ourselves down to a precise time, date, manner of action, but there will be consequences if it were to be proven – including, I might say, things that are way beyond our control and have nothing to do with us. But the International Criminal Court and others are free to hold him accountable,” he said.

“And as you know, we have a resolution that will be in front of the United Nations with respect to culpability for crimes against humanity, atrocities in the course of this conflict,” Kerry continued.

“So one way or the other, there will be accountability.”

The resolution Kerry cited, drafted by France, calls for referral to the ICC of human rights and international humanitarian law violations during the conflict by the regime, pro-regime militias and “non-state armed groups.”

French diplomats said they hoped it could be voted on within days.

The near-certainty of Russia – and possibly China – vetoing it underscores the divisions that have characterized the Security Council response throughout the crisis.

Last fall’s Russia-brokered agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons was embedded in a Security Council resolution,

That measure passed unanimously – a development hailed by the administration then as a major diplomatic achievement – but Russia only agreed to support it after it was watered down: The final text included no direct enforcement mechanism and no automatic penalties for Syrian non-compliance.

At the time, Kerry insisted that there would be consequences for violations of the agreement. But any such measures against Syria would require another Security Council resolution, and Russia made it clear from the start that it would only support such a resolution should a violation be “100 percent proven.”

Personnel in protective gear at the NATO multinational Chemical, Biological Radiological and Nuclear Defense Battalion in Liberec, Czech Republic. (Photo: NATO)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius alleged this week that the Syrian regime has used chemical agents, mostly chlorine, in the fighting on at least 14 separate occasions since last October.

The U.S.-based non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch in a report issued Tuesday said it had documented strong evidence implicating the regime in three separate uses of chlorine gas, dropped from helicopters in northern Syria last month.

“According to doctors who treated the victims and subsequently spoke to Human Rights Watch, these attacks killed at least 11 people and resulted in symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine in nearly 500 other people,” it said.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversees the CWC, states that a toxic or precursor chemical such as chlorine “is defined as a chemical weapon unless it has been developed, produced, stockpiled or used for purposes not prohibited by the Convention.”

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