World powers meet to pressure Syria on chemical attacks
Diplomats from 29 countries including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met in Paris on Jan. 23 pushing for sanctions and criminal charges against the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria.
Tillerson and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian were also scheduled to co-host a meeting of ministers ahead of a new round of peace talks in Vienna later this week and again in Sochi in Russia the week after.
The chemical weapons meeting comes after Jan. 22 allegations of a fresh chemical attack by the Syrian regime on Douma in the rebel-held region of Eastern Ghouta.
The alleged attack prompted a sharp warning from the U.S. to Russia to rein in its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The regime has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons, with the United Nations among those blaming it for an April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun which left scores dead.
There have been at least 130 separate chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012, according to French estimates, with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also accused of using mustard gas in Syria and Iraq.
A month after his election in May, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that chemical weapons were a “red line” that would prompt a response from France if used again, though he has declined to specify what that response would be.
The information and compilation of a list of individuals implicated in the use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond may later be result in sanctions such as asset freezes and entry bans as well as criminal proceedings at the national level.
The French initiative comes after Russia twice used its U.N. veto to block an extension of an inquiry by international experts into chemical weapons use in Syria.
“Today the situation is blocked at the highest international level,” an aide to Le Drian said.
“The perpetrators of chemical attacks must know that they can be prosecuted and that we won’t let this lie.”
Ahead of the meeting France announced asset freezes against 25 Syrian companies and executives, as well as French, Lebanese and
Chinese businesses accused of aiding regime use of chemical weapons.
After the repeated collapse of U.N.-backed peace talks, a fresh round are due to be held in Vienna on January 25-26, followed by talks under a separate Russian peace initiative in Sochi on January 30, backed by Iran and Turkey.
Macron has been calling for months for the creation of a new Syria contact group that would bring together regional countries with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the US.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also traveled to Paris on Jan. 23 for the launch of a new partnership against chemical weapons.
Çavuşoğlu was also scheduled to hold bilateral talks on the issue.