Defense Ministry official Igor Kirillov told reporters in The Hague that the Russian military would help secure the visit of nine experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The team arrived in Damascus on Saturday, hours after a U.S.-led strike on three chemical weapons targets in the country, but did not go to Douma, as expected.
Earlier Monday, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said Russian and Syrian officials had informed the team that there are “still pending security issues to be worked out before any deployment could take place” to Douma — the site of the alleged attack.
In Moscow, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the mission was not allowed in because it lacked approval from the United Nation’s Department for Safety and Security.
U.N. officials in New York disputed the claim.
“The United Nations has provided the necessary clearances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. “We have not denied the team any request for it to go to Douma.”
He added that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is very supportive of the investigation.
“The secretary-general wants to see the fact-finding mission have access to all the sites it needs to have access to, so that we can have the most thorough and full picture of the facts,” Dujarric said.
Russia: Chemical attack staged
Earlier, Russia rejected British allegations that it was hindering the investigation of the alleged chemical attack and said it wants a fact-finding mission to move ahead.
“I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Lavrov contended that evidence cited by the United States, Britain and France to justify last Saturday’s missile attack on three Syrian chemical weapons facilities was based “on media reports and social media.” He denied any chemical weapons attack had occurred, accusing Britain of staging the attack that killed more than 40 people.
Britain, France and the United States all say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were responsible for using chemical weapons in Douma.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday the strikes were “entirely the right thing to do.”
“I’m afraid the Syrian war in many ways will go on in its horrible, miserable way. But it was the world saying that we’ve had enough of the use of chemical weapons,” Johnson said.
He spoke as European foreign ministers gathered to discuss the situation in Syria. The EU reiterated its condemnation of the use of chemical weapons on Syria, including the most recent reported attack, and said it supports the work of international chemical weapons investigators.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also said there is a clear need to push for re-launching a U.N.-led peace process. At the U.N. Security Council, France has proposed a new draft resolution that addresses three key aspects of the conflict — chemical weapons, humanitarian issues and the political process.
“So, this is our road map, and we will work very hard, in good faith, in good spirit, to listen to everybody, in order to try to move ahead with our draft resolution and move forward toward an inclusive political settlement of the crisis,” France’s envoy François Delattre told reporters Monday.
‘Hopefully he’s gotten the message’
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley warned Assad that the U.S. would launch new missile strikes against his government if he carries out another chemical weapons attack.
Haley said, “If Assad doesn’t get it” after Saturday’s barrage of 105 missiles fired by the U.S., Britain and France, “it’s going to hurt. There will be more. We can’t allow even the smallest use of chemical weapons.”
She said that it is “entirely up to Assad” whether the missile attack on Syria was a one-time response to the suspected chemical attack by Syrian forces a week ago that killed more than 40 people or part of a continuing allied military effort.
“We’ll see how smart he is,” Haley said. “We’ll watch his actions. Hopefully he’s gotten the message.”