Syria and Russia say the United States has lied about chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian conflict as a way of blocking efforts to end the fighting.
A Syrian foreign ministry source condemned what it called “lies and allegations” by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
SANA, Syria's state-operated news agency, reported the Syrian official’s comments.
Separately, a Russian diplomat said that whenever progress is made in peace efforts, the United States releases "unverified reports" of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov spoke to the Interfax news agency.
Those comments came a day after the United States and NATO launched a campaign to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The alliance noted Russia’s protection of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
"The recent attacks in East Ghouta raise serious concerns that Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime might be continuing its use of chemical weapons against its own people," Tillerson said. He spoke at a conference in Paris.
Tillerson said at least 20 people were killed Monday in what is believed to be a chlorine gas attack in East Ghouta, an area controlled by rebels near Damascus.
The U.S. official said that Russia must accept responsibility for the East Ghouta attack as well as other attacks because of its involvement in Syria.
Tillerson was among the diplomats who launched the International Partnership against Impunity for Use of Chemical Weapons on Tuesday. More than 20 nations agreed to a commitment to share information on fighting the use of chemical weapons worldwide.
The secretary of state said Russia's failure to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria raises questions about its commitment to resolving the conflict.
"At a very minimum, Russia must stop vetoing and at least abstain from future (United Nations) Security Council votes” about Syria, Tillerson said.
In November, Russia vetoed plans to finance an independent and technical group created by the Security Council. The group, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), was set up to investigate those responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the Russian veto sent a message to the world that “chemical weapons use is acceptable” and no one will be held accountable. Her comments were in a statement released on Tuesday.
Turkey's offensive in the northern Syrian community of Afrin was also discussed at Tuesday's talks in Paris. Tillerson met there with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
On Monday, during a stop in London, the secretary of state said the United States is "concerned" about the offensive against U.S.-supported Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.
Turkish military operations on Monday attempted to push the Kurdish militia out of the Afrin area. The militia controls parts of northern Syria and has been successful in the fight against Islamic State militants.
Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization. Turkish officials have linked it to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has fought for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey.
On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Le Drian expressed his concern about Turkey’s military operation in Afrin.
"I had the opportunity to tell my Turkish colleague that this offensive worries us," Le Drian said. He added he understood Turkey’s concerns about border security, but asked for ‘restraint.’
Turkey shelled Afrin after the U.S.-led coalition said it would form a Kurdish-led, 30,000 member militia to help with border security in northern Syria.
The U.S. government later said it was not creating a border force and the goal was to improve security in liberated areas.
I'm Susan Shand.
Susan Shand adapted this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
source – n. someone or something that provides what is needed
allegation – n. a claim or accusation
unverified – adj. unconfirmed
regime – n. a form of government
commitment – n. a promise to do or give something
abstain – v. to choose not to do or have something
minimum – n. the lowest in a set of numbers; the smallest amount
restraint – n. control over one’s behavior
opportunity – n. a chance of progress or forward movement