Søvndal: UN investigation into Syria needed before action

The foreign minister calls for patience after his French counterpart suggests a forceful intervention could be on the horizon

The foreign minister, Villy Søvndal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), has lent his support to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s initiative to take a deep look into the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The UN Security Council met late last night and a press release by the Foreign Ministry suggested that council members had agreed to look into the matter. A UN inspection team is currently negotiating with the Syrian government about gaining access to the areas where chemical weapons allegedly killed as many as 1,300 people this week.

“The news from Syria is very alarming and we must react,” Søvndal said. “I strongly urge the Syrian government to agree to let a UN inspection team gain access to the area, so we can investigate this matter thoroughly.”

France threatens to use force
While Søvndal called for UN action, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, declared that if the use of chemical weapons is confirmed, then a "reaction with force" could be necessary.

Søvndal warned against any country going it alone, contending that an investigation must take place before the topic of an intervention should even be discussed.

“I want to warn against individual nations competing over who can come up with a plan first,” Søvndal told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “It’s important not to jump over too many hurdles right now. It is essential in such a complex conflict that the UN Security Council has responsibility.”

No timeframe for action
The foreign minister said that it was too early to say how the UN would react should the reports of chemical weapons use be substantiated and that there was no telling when a UN decision would occur.

“I’m a politician, not a fortune teller. We are working hard to find a political solution,” Søvndal said. “I don’t want to guess about timeframes or whatnot. We will use all our resources to uncover what happened and the UN will lead the way.”

UN investigations into the possible use of chemical weapons may have become more likely as of this morning. Al-Jazeera reports that Russia, which has supported the regime of Bashar Al-Assad during the Syrian conflict, is now calling on the regime to allow the UN to investigate. The Russian Foreign Ministry has previously accused Syrian rebels of staging the massacre to trigger intervention and it remains likely that Russia would veto any UN Security resolution concerning military intervention in Syria.

Factfile | Chemical weapons in Syria

This week's events in Syria did not represent the first possible use of chemical weapons in the war-torn country:

– Khan al-Assal, March 19 – Rebels blame the army for killing 31 people with rockets containing chemical materials
– Al-Otaybeh, March 19 – Opposition activists say that chemical weaponry was used in an attack in which six people are reported dead
– Adra, March 24 – The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria report that two people are killed in a chemical attack
– Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo, April 13 – Footage from an attack shows the victims showing symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve gas
– Saraqeb, April 29 – Eyewitnesses say poisonous gas canisters are dropped from a helicopter above the town. One person dies
– Ghouta, August 21 – Hundreds of people reported dead in chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus

NOTE: This story was updated at 11:03am to reflect the fact that Russia has now called on the Syrian regime to allow UN inspectors to investigate a possible chemical attack

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