By Stephen Kaufman
21 August 2013
Washington — The Obama administration expressed deep concern over reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians were killed near Damascus in an attack that included the use of chemical weapons and requested that a United Nations team in Syria be allowed immediate and unfettered access to investigate the reports.
In an August 21 statement, White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said the United States strongly condemns “any and all use” of chemical weapons, and that those responsible for their use must be held accountable.
“If the Syrian government has nothing to hide and is truly committed to an impartial and credible investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria, it will facilitate the U.N. team’s immediate and unfettered access to this site,” Earnest said.
For the U.N. team’s efforts to have credibility, the team “must have immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals, and have the ability to examine and collect physical evidence without any interference or manipulation from the Syrian government,” he said.
The Obama administration has also called for urgent consultations in the U.N. Security Council to discuss allegations of the attack and to call for Bashar al-Assad’s regime to provide the U.N. investigative team with immediate access. Earnest added that all Syrian parties need to provide the team with access to any site of importance to its investigation and to ensure team members security.
In remarks to reporters August 21, Earnest said there is a broad international view that the use of chemical weapons is “completely unacceptable” and the situation “is and should be a top priority of the United Nations.”
The Assad regime has previously claimed it is interested in “a credible investigation that gets to the bottom of reports that chemical weapons have been used” in Syria, he said. “It’s time for the Assad regime to live up to their rhetoric in this regard,” he added.
Earnest said those responsible for any use of chemical weapons would be held accountable, and those responsible for safeguarding chemical weapons would be held accountable for the way in which those weapons are handled.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said August 21 that after months of working to get the U.N. investigative team into Syria, its presence in the country offers of opportunity to immediately investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use.
If Syrian officials “have nothing to hide, they should be providing the team with unfettered access,” she said and urged international support for the U.N. team.
“There should be no country that stands by or accepts the credible use or the potential credible use of chemical weapons, and every country should be supporting the effort by the U.N. investigative team to go in and look at as many cases as they can possibly look at. And we believe there’s a moral imperative to allow that to happen,” Psaki said.